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LHU President, VP talk financial challenges

47 staff, 7 undergrad majors up for cuts

LOCK HAVEN — Tough decisions are looming on the horizon for Lock Haven University as it begins to make changes required by the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education.

Due to financial losses across the system, the PASSHE Board of Governors and Chancellor Daniel Greenstein have set guidelines for LHU to return to its 2010-2011 financial sustainability standards.

“(LHU) has, based upon the events of the past decade, found itself in a somewhat vulnerable position that requires some very difficult measures to be taken over the next two years,” Dr. Ron Darbeau, vice president and provost, told LHU’s board of trustees.

Among these decisions is the impending loss of 47 full-time staff members, placing seven programs in moratorium and raising the average class size from a 19.2 ratio to 32 as well as educational integration with Bloomsburg and Mansfield universities.

The seven programs that may be placed in moratorium include: art, foreign languages, geology, history, international studies, math, music (both BA and BFA), physics, political science, sociology, M.Ed. Alternative Education and athletic training.

The plan is to shed the 10 programs and backfill most of them into three new programs.

According to Darbeau’s report new programs would be considered are:

— Civics and social sciences as a place holder for history, political science, sociology and international sciences.

— Computational science and data analytics which would absorb math under computer sciences.

— Historic preservation and conservation which would absorb history, entrepreneurship, business, computer science, art, geography and tourism management.

“These changes will result in both a significant departure from practice and culture but also a marked upheaval of the academic enterprise. They are, nonetheless, both mandated … and necessary to avoid the continual fiscal crisis in which LHU is currently embroiled,” Darbeau wrote in his report.

Darbeau reported that entrenchment is expected to occur over two years as well with about half occurring each year.

The first wave will come from programs being placed in moratorium, excess teaching capacity or other fiscal inefficiencies, he said. The second wave will come from viable programs.

In one of its first steps to regain financial stability, the board of trustees approved its 2020-2021 budget which included cuts in multiple areas.

University President Dr. Robert Pignatello provided a breakdown of the university’s financial woes during the meeting Friday afternoon.

Although the university has seen its enrollment stabilize, nearly a decade of decline in student population and the COVID-19 pandemic have caused an issue.

“We can’t alter the fact that lost enrollment meant lost revenue over almost a decade,” Pignatello said. “No organization whether it’s public or private or any household can sustain itself that way for too long and we can’t either.”

In an effort to close the universities deficits in both the Auxiliary and General Education budgets, a 15 percent in budgets across the board, reduction of discretionary spending and participating in system wide shared services were implemented.

With these and future changes Pignatello said the university should return to a positive financial margin by 2022-23 “through a combination of stabilized enrollment and alignment of faculty and staff levels to lower enrollment levels.”

“These have not been the easiest discussions and I don’t expect they’re going to get much easier,” Pignatello said. “But we cannot have large operating deficits where expenses bar our pace revenue. Our budget… represents our effort to close a large revenue gap, utilizing our reserves to do so and to ultimately economize by reducing cost through a two year period across the board.”

Increasing tuition costs is currently not on the table to help decrease the university’s deficit.

“We can’t rely on tuition increases because we cannot put the price of a degree out of reach,” Pignatello said.

Pignatello did highlight the positives in the universities enrollment, noting that it has stabilized and student retention has increased.

“Our decade long recruitment decline has been reversed. We are predicting a 6.14 percent increase in retention… combined that will represent an eight percent or so increase in the last two years which is critically important,” he said. “It’s important to bring the students here but it’s important that they get what they came here fore.”

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