Numbers are down, but LHU scores at top of state schools

LOCK HAVEN — Student enrollment at LHU is down, totaling 3,827. Revenue from tuition is likewise lower this semester.

This is not a new situation at Lock Haven University or at most of the 14 state universities in Pennsylvania.

However, LHU is at the top of the game in student success and certain other factors that are deemed to be so important, they are tied to state funding.

The university is No. 1 in the state in these “performance funding” measures. That achievement was announced earlier this week.

At their meeting Friday, the university’s trustees heard more details about how this was attained from William T. Hanelly, vice president for finance and administration.

Under the performance funding system, state universities can receive additional state dollars by doing things well and earning up to 10 points for such factors as student success, access for under-served and low-income students, faculty diversity, attaining external fundraising goals, and addressing the backlog of deferred maintenance projects.

In all, LHU earned 8.75 points, the top ranking of any state system school. Last year, the university was tied for top place with 8.25 points, and in the 2015-16 academic year, it was No. 1 with 9.5 points.

Hanelly said the university’s appropriation from the state was $1.8 million greater over the past three years than it would have been under the normal allocation formula.

He credited the good work of the university’s staff.

Trustee Deborah Suder said this news should make everyone aware that Lock Haven University is far from disaster, even while the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education (PASSHE) as a whole is trying to combat the trend of lower student enrollments.

The Lock Haven University student number of 3,827 compares with last year’s number of 4,220.

Undergraduate students number 3,472, compared with 3,845 last year. Graduate students total 355, which is 20 fewer than last fall.

New students number 790, compared with 828 last year. Transfers number 158, which is 8 fewer than last fall.

In the 2016-17 academic year, tuition declined by $1.9 million, which is 5.4 percent, to $32.7 million. This reflects fewer students. Increases in tuition and fee rates helped offset the declining enrollment.

Ensuring student success is one of the three priorities the PASSHE Board of Governors and Interim Chancellor Dr. Karen M. Whitney are focusing on, reported Lock Haven University President Dr. Michael Fiorentino Jr.

The other two are improving the governing and leadership structure, and leveraging the strengths of the individual universities, he told the trustees.

PASSHE has a great deal of work ahead of it in the next several months, he said, and basic tenents of the state Legislature’s Act 188, which originally established the state system, must be addressed.

People from each university will be appointed to serve on task forces to work on specific challenges, he added.

Things are already starting to change, Fiorentino said. The most recent board of governors meeting was more like a conversation, with more engagement of the universities’ representatives, he reported.

Fiorentino also said he watched a broadcast of a Pennsylvania House and Senate joint meeting on PASSHE, held Wednesday, when core issues were talked about.

These included the continuing decline in student enrollment, shifts in enrollment showing students’ interests moving from rural to urban areas, workforce development, development of academic programs to prepare graduates for jobs in Pennsylvania, and greater collaboration among individual universities so each can be more efficient while spending less money.

The possibility of less system-wide governance and more decision-making power for individual universities was discussed.

Regulations that state system schools like LHU must follow but that do not apply to state-related universities also should be examined, Fiorentino said.

“These are good things to have on the table,” he said.

The tuition structure and what Fiorentino called “the elephant in the room” — state funding for state universities — are key.

The hearing was not the first, nor the last time that legislators and PASSHE will sit down together in the wake of the PASSHE Strategic System Review that came out in July, he told the trustees.

The Legislature has contracted with the Rand Corporation to conduct another study, not tied to the previous one.

Fiorentino said he does not advocate a switch to a business model for the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education, but the organizational structure does need to be changed up and become more action oriented.

“This is a challenging time. This is a challenging year,” he said. “We are looking to the future.”

The LHU Board of Trustees also elected officers Friday. George Durrwachter will continue as board chair. Also elected were Daniel Elby as vice chair and Suder as secretary.