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The State of the University ~ Progress Report on “A New Dimension of Excellence”

The State of the University ~ Progress Report on “A New Dimension of Excellence”

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Six years ago, we launched an ambitious strategic plan, “A New Dimension of Excellence,” to address institutional challenges and to realize our institutional vision. Since then, our community has rallied to effectuate an amazing institutional transformation.

Today, Pitt-Johnstown enjoys a higher profile with noteworthy accolades. In 2011, we climbed the US News rankings to Tier 1 from Tier 3; we are a Princeton Review “Best College in the Northeast;” we are regularly honored in the President’s Community Service Honor Roll; and we are considered one of Pennsylvania’s highest returns on investment. The Noel-Levitz student satisfaction survey and the National Survey of Student Engagement place us above peers in key performance criteria. Our faculty are increasingly recognized for noteworthy teaching and scholarship, including faculty-student research.

To update our programs and maintain competitiveness, our strategic plan prioritized academic innovation and renewal. Many milestones followed. The Campus developed 12 new programs including nursing, justice administration, special education, and management information systems. Extensive faculty hiring initiatives boosted our faculty complement, especially in new majors. A new Division of Nursing and Health Sciences will make its home in a brand new, $12 million facility. The class of 2013 included our inaugural BSN class!

Change is palpably evident in campus infrastructure.  In 2007-08, the Facilities, Infrastructure, and Technology (FIT) Task Force identified an extensive list of deferred maintenance issues. Since then, projects totaling over $40 million have upgraded one-third of the campus, including the newly-built Nursing and Health Sciences and Wellness Center buildings. Classrooms, laboratories, dining facilities, and many residence halls have been extensively renovated. Over 10,000 square feet was reclaimed for academic purposes — saving about $5 million. The campus signage hurdle has been overcome. Renovation of the Engineering and Science building and construction of the new Murtha Center are planned for FY2014. Technology-ready classrooms have doubled; wireless is now available in academic and residential areas; and the Web site redesign is underway.

To sustain growth, we expanded our resource base through cultivation of new resources. Successful fundraising by our team helped us exceed our $20 million campaign goal with an influx of the largest gifts and grants in our history. Thanks to our generous donors, the endowment has grown to over $32 million compared to $15 million seven years ago. In 2008, the campus announced a gift of $12 million from a donor who preferred anonymity. Later the same year, we announced a $4 million grant from the Commonwealth for nursing – thanks to the support of community leaders and local legislators. Recently, the Campus was selected to receive a $10 million Commonwealth grant for the proposed Murtha Center for Public Service. Furthermore, membership in the Alumni Association is at an all-time high and contributions have increased substantially.

In addition, effective resource stewardship helped us meet the challenge of the Great Recession and sustain our momentum. We secured substantial cost savings through effective resource reallocation; achieved greater efficiencies in areas such as utilities, purchasing, and space utilization; and created a substantial operating reserve to address contingencies and fund strategic initiatives. While realigning as necessary, we focused on priorities and, most significantly, did not reduce academic operating budgets.

Meanwhile, effective enrollment management enabled the campus to minimize the impact of demographic changes. Our “Get Ready for the RealWorld” campaign and expanded recruitment boosted applications by 35%; the fall 2012 class was the largest since 2007 and the fourth largest in 11 years; international enrollment is up over 2,000%; African American and Latino enrollments are up by 78% and 91% respectively; out-of-state enrollment is up 133%; enrollment in STEM majors is up 21%. The average SAT of the most recent freshman class is 1,040 compared to 1,023 in 2007. Furthermore, the retention rate is 75% (up 3%) and the 2012 graduation rate rose to 63% (up 4%) – both higher than most peer institutions.

The campus is more global, fulfilling many of the high expectations of the Global Education Task Force of 2007. With establishment of the Office of International Services in 2008 and related initiatives, international student enrollment increased from 3 students to 93 — from fifteen countries. Study Abroad has grown by over 31%. The International Business certificate program and other initiatives have created new opportunities to enhance global competency.
The RealWorld Action Program – our distinctive approach to facilitating our students’ professional development and fostering greater civic involvement — is fueling student engagement. With widespread student participation, including in related RealWorld Interest Groups, the program is a key aspect of our brand and niche, creating a signature experience that has spurred greater recognition for our students’ involvement in community service. 

The institution received a major boost when it fulfilled a long-held aspiration to join the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference (PSAC). Membership will improve our visibility in the state, enliven campus life, and enhance recruiting and alumni outreach. Meanwhile, since its launch in 2007, our Athletics Hall of Fame now boasts 26 distinguished members!

To enhance town-gown relations, we strengthened connections with the Johnstown community and increased responsiveness to community needs. Various initiatives, including the development of needed academic programs, have precipitated a sea change in the University’s profile and fostered goodwill. Stronger ties were developed with organizations such as the Windber Research Institute, the Johnstown Area Regional Industries, and various K-12 schools through our STEM initiative.

Friends, one cannot help but be overwhelmed by the transformative progress, thanks to the collaborative endeavors of faculty, students, staff, alumni, and board  members, as well as the support of our donors and well-wishers. It is a great honor to travel this trajectory together, to have the opportunity to contribute one’s talents and creative energy to these results. Together, we catalyzed greater collaboration, prudent experimentation, and bold innovation. We abandoned complacency and precipitated a rethinking of the status quo in a dynamic environment. On the toughest days, we stayed positive as we inspired each other to envision the future and to focus on the big picture. Consequently, we are fulfilling our institutional mission and realizing our vision. Our work is not done. We are at the dawn of a new strategic planning process - “The Next Level” - but more on that another time.  In the meantime, one can look back with heartfelt gratitude at this transformational progress. Thank you!

—Jem Spectar, President

Posted by Natalie Bombatch on 9/26/2013 3:00:00 PM