The Pennsylvania System of Higher Education (PASSHE) schools will be improving their recruitment efforts to help combat the decline in enrollment the system has witnessed for the second straight year.
PASSHE Chancellor Dr. John C. Cavanaugh addressed numerous issues facing the system during its own Collegiate Media Summit this past weekend at Bloomsburg University, most notably commenting on concerns about PASSHE enrollment and ongoing APSCUF negotiations.
Cavanaugh cited a drop in the number of students statewide and strong competition in higher education as the main factors for the drop in enrollment across PASSHE schools.
“It’s no secret that the number of high school seniors in the commonwealth of Pennsylvania, when you look at the commonwealth as a whole, is declining,” Cavanaugh said, adding that the areas outside the state’s two largest cities, Pittsburgh and Philadelphia, are the most affected.
“Part of that is due to migration, part of it is due to the big populations [around the cities],” Cavanaugh said. “That means for us that the traditional market of 17 and 18 year old freshmen is declining. We experienced this decline last year, and this year, according to ‘first day’ statistics, numbers indicated we’re down 4,000 students.”
Beyond the impact of demographic trends, Cavanaugh cited competition amongst other universities as a factor in enrollment figures.
“The commonwealth is blessed with more institutions of higher education in the four year market than almost any other state in the country,” the chancellor said. “So there’s a lot of competition for those students. And we’re not immune to those forces.”
As a way to combat the drop in enrollment, the chancellor said PASSHE was increasing its focus on how they recruit high school students, particularly increasing the awareness of the diverse programs the state schools have to offer.
“We’ve been known for a very long time for our excellence in physical education,” Cavanaugh said. “We arguably are the first choice of institutions for that. But what a lot of people don’t know is what we’ve been doing lately in terms of adding programs in science and technology.
In addition to improving recruitment at the high school level, Cavanaugh said PASSHE is continuing to increase their efforts to enroll nontraditional students.
“The second untapped area for us, relatively speaking, is adult students,” Cavanaugh said. “Whether they served in the military, whether they didn’t have the chance to go to college straight out of high school, we can do a better job reaching out to people who are 25, 35, 45 years old who didn’t have a chance to earn a degree.”
Cavanaugh also addressed the ongoing contract negotiations with APSCUF during the 30 minute press conference.
“We’ve been in discussions with APSCUF now for close to two years,” the chancellor said. “There are a number of meetings that are scheduled through October and November.”
While Cavanaugh did not go into much detail about the negotiating process, he said he remained hopeful that an agreement will be made between the two sides.
“I continue to be optimistic that we will be able to reach an agreement with them,” he said. “We’ve already reached an agreement with five other unions and so I’m optimistic about our ability to continue those discussions and reach an agreement that is good for both sides.”
One of the main issues currently between APSCUF and PASSHE is the role of adjunct faculty in the system. The chancellor claimed the system is devoted to maintaining a balance between full and part time faculty.
“One of the things that we always have to keep a close eye on is the balance between adjunct faculty and tenured-track and tenured faculty,” he said. “And that balance comes in a number of different ways. We can look at it in terms of the percentage of adjunct faculty, and we want to do that and make sure that in the contract right now there is a cap on that of 25 percent.”
Cavanaugh also said that the role of adjunct faculty can be beneficial to the learning experience of students at PASSHE schools.
“We also want to make sure that in the appropriate right ways that we do offer opportunities for people in the profession to come back and offer and share their experience with students, Cavanaugh said. “Those are the kind of things that can enrich the curriculum and enrich the experience of students.”