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We’re working to preserve LHU’s heritage

In its 150th year, Lock Haven University stands at a crossroads as it looks to redefine its future and continue its mission.

We stabilized enrollment this year even during the pandemic and “stopped the drop” for the first time in seven years.

This was a community-wide effort by all of us — administration, faculty, staff and coaches that we are very proud of. And I believe the quality of our offerings, location and culture provide further growth opportunities for LHU too.

But over the past decade extended enrollment loss, increased labor and other costs, and lagging state support created significant structural deficits that cannot be ignored.

In 2010-2011 we had 5,400 students and today we have about 3,000. Expense reductions have not kept pace with the dramatic enrollment losses. The misalignment between revenues and expenses created financial deficits and gaps that must be closed.

The need to create a sound financial foundation for today and into the future is something we must act on now. These challenges must be addressed and overcome to ensure the preservation of LHU’s mission and legacy of providing access to affordable, high-quality academic experiences to the students here and in the region.

Most of the university’s increased costs are represented through what is spent on personnel. It is the nature of higher education.

Spending must be examined and reduced across all of our cost centers so we are looking at all costs, both instructional and non-instructional.

We have already enacted efficiency measures to reduce administrative costs and we will do more of that, too.

We have dedicated, committed faculty and excellent programs. But these programs need to be more efficiently staffed and some may need to be discontinued or modified to meet changing demands and employment trends.

The options to do this are not infinite. And with the two years we have been given by the System to accomplish and reach certain financial and efficiency targets, it represents a herculean task. We are certainly not alone in higher education in looking at how we can keep our programs affordable and reduce costs.

It starts with our own system, which is facing monumental fiscal challenges that effect each component campus and impacts our own financial condition.

In this respect, our challenges are joined and mutually dependent.

That’s why we find ourselves at the start of a process of proposed system redesign/integration with fellow PASSHE institutions, Bloomsburg University and Mansfield University.

The system’s economic analysis indicates that this combination creates a scale necessary to achieve success in terms of both cost savings and potential growth and we have been asked to pursue it.

This integration provides the opportunity to utilize the advantage of increased scale in expanding access to a greater diversity of high-quality educational programs across three institutions for the region’s students.

Presently it is a proposal. At this early stage it offers promise. But the proposal is still being developed and does not yet answer the many questions that we all have — including me.

It is incumbent on us to make our voice heard regarding the potential elements of any plan that we feel are important to our identity and to our region.

For example, I am suggesting we include efforts to bring workforce development and short term affordable credentials here. This is something we can work on with the Clinton County Economic Partnership.

We will be reaching out to talk to them about that, and to others like the City Council, Commissioners, and School District so that we can work together to preserve and continue our service and what it means to the local economy and the citizens here. This also applies to involving the LHU community in developing a plan over the coming months.

This input from faculty, staff, coaches and our students, donors and alumni is vital.

A final plan will be presented to the PASSHE Board of Governors next year. We should take advantage of this time to influence its outcome.

Change of this magnitude and pace is hard.

Taking this on in the middle of a pandemic only adds to the burden.

So I understand and appreciate the concern and anxiety this is causing. I will continue to discuss this with all of our stakeholders.

But our goal is to best preserve the culture, history, and heritage of our beloved institution and keep the needs of our community and most especially our students at the center of our decisions.

Dr. Robert Pignatello is the15th president of Lock Haven University.

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