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Commitment to Northern Tier Affirmed in Presidential Message

(The following is an opinion piece by Dr. Davie Jane Gilmour, Pennsylvania College of Technology president, originally published Friday, April 27, 2001, in the Williamsport Sun-Gazette.)

We care deeply about our students.

Because that is true, I feel it is appropriate to clarify our recent change in programming at the North Campus and to respond to what has been reported following our public announcement last Friday.

It is important to note that our decision, to suspend credit programming and concentrate on noncredit, personal- and professional-development, and workforce-development initiatives at that site, was not a decision made quickly or without due consideration. Years of consideration took place before we officially notified students, faculty and advisory committee members by letter last Thursday of our plans to change direction.

We have seen a serious decline in credit-class enrollment at the North Campus since 1992. That year, we reached our highest North Campus enrollment of 227 students. Since then, our enrollment has dropped to its current low of 78 individuals enrolled in one or more classes (to reach the equivalent of 38 full-time students). Some North Campus classes are running with as few as three students.

Because we have been concerned about the decline in enrollment and its effect on our credit offerings, we began a comprehensive review of operations in 1997. One obvious impact on enrollment at the North Campus has been the introduction of associate degree programs at neighboring Mansfield University. (No other institution in the area was offering associate degree programs when we launched the North Campus in 1982.)

As a result of preliminary findings, by 1999 we were informing incoming and enrolled North Campus students that most would need to supplement their education with classes at our Main Campus or to transfer credits elsewhere in order to complete a degree. Our recruitment messages, publications and official contacts, from that time on, have reflected our intent for the North Campus to serve as a place to start earning a degree, not as a point of completion. Yet, some continued to hope for the chance to complete their education without leaving their home community.

We recognize that the North Campus has been a godsend for many adults in the Northern Tier. It has provided a comfortable, convenient bridge into the world of higher education. It has opened the door on opportunities many would not have considered, were it not for the friendly, warm and inviting atmosphere of this quiet, rural campus.

But, there has been a downside as well. Small classes, which we tout as important to our mission, simply have become too small. Classes with fewer than 10 people not only are not feasible economically, they also offer too little stimulation to the students involved. The awarding of college credits must be tied to vigor and vitality in the classroom. We could not continue to assure quality without increasing the number of students enrolled in credit classes at the North Campus and, while noncredit programs are attracting more students each year, the numbers in credit classes simply have not increased.

It is my profound hope that all the students who have begun their journey toward a college degree at the North Campus will continue at the Main Campus or elsewhere. Members of our staff continue to work with the students, advising them on how they can stay on track and achieve their goals. I feel confident that we have advising, counseling and academic support systems in place to serve the students well.

I also am confident that changing our focus is the right decision. Concentrating our resources on noncredit programs and workforce development partnerships with business and industry which clearly have attracted the most interest among the community in recent years will allow us to remain a vital institution in the Northern Tier.

We care about the future of the Northern Tier. That is why we are committed to maintaining the vitality of the North Campus. We also care about the future of individual students and we will continue to work with each one, on a case-by-case basis, to work out a plan that will allow them to finish the good work they have begun at the North Campus.

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