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Jim Geiger: Clarion University Not Closing; Integration to Help Provide Student Success and Outcomes

Tuesday, October 12, 2021 @ 03:10 AM

Posted by Ron Wilshire

08F4734B-81DE-4288-A530-341A03CAFB66_1_201_a-768x1024CLARION, Pa. (EYT) – The integration of Clarion University, Edinboro University, and California University into a new entity has raised many questions in the community, and Jim Geiger (pictured above), vice president for university advancement, provided some direct answers and knocked down some rumors at the Monday meeting of the Clarion Rotary Club.

Clarion University President Dale-Elizabeth Pehrsson is also interim president of Edinboro and California. She spends two weeks at a time at each campus. Geiger, in addition to overseeing communications, marketing, fundraising, and alumni engagement, was appointed campus administrator.

“I’m here to answer questions that you have; however, there are still questions that are yet to be answered,” said Geiger.

“The integration came about to help us be able to provide student success and outcomes, outcomes across the three universities. It’s no secret that we have been declining in enrollment, as well as Cal and Edinboro.

“It’s an opportunity to really work together and take advantage of economies of scale. A good example of that is this semester, there are about 50 classes that are offered on one of the three campuses that other students on the other two campuses are taking advantage of online.

“There are classes on different campuses that people want to take, and this will really streamline that whole process for them.”

Geiger was quick to emphasize that a rumor about Clarion shutting down and offering all online classes is only a rumor, and it is not true.

“Act 50 passed by the Pennsylvania legislature, the enabling legislation to allow integrations, forbids any closures.”

One question everyone asks is what will the “new” entity be called?

“There are a lot of questions about change. We said from the beginning that one of the key priorities of this is to make sure that each campus involved maintains its name, maintains its legacy, branding, athletic teams, and mascots. I can tell you that we’re on that track, and it is a fantastic opportunity.”

According to Geiger, design teams from Cal, Clarion, and Edinboro worked together to select an umbrella name that honors our local names and keep our local brand identities. A separate umbrella brand is also being developed for the northeast integration of Mansfield, Lock Haven, and Bloomsburg.

Pehrsson will present the name at Thursday’s meeting of the State System Board of Governors, after which we will reveal the name.

“We know that about 50,000 students a year leave a community college with an associate degree and go to a Southern New Hampshire, a Phoenix or other online schools. We’re really trying to keep those folks here in Pennsylvania to earn their bachelor’s degrees.”

Financial sustainability needed

“Certainly financial sustainability is a big piece of this, and we’ve already taken advantage of some opportunities. We have used Chartwells for 50 plus years as our food vendor and last year we began an RFP process with multiple universities to see if we can provide better service to students at a lower cost. We are now using Aramark at multiple universities, offering different options, different setups in terms of how they engage with college kids who don’t eat breakfast, lunch, and dinner during the times that we probably eat those meals. There’s a lot of flexibility with the Aramark contract that really makes it nice for students to eat when they’re able.

Recruiting students

“A big piece for us is not really competing with the other 13 universities, but working together to recruit new students.

“We know that there’s a lot of crossover with those schools and we’re really going to push to have one strategy for enrollment that will still have those multiple outlets.

“For us to be able to get students in the top of the funnel and then help them define for themselves, what is it about a specific campus that you want as part of your experience? This should give us some opportunities to really grow the enrollment for the three of us.

“The new umbrella brand will promote the online piece. We’re working with Arizona State University. They’re not going to teach our classes or design our courses, but they’re helping us with the infrastructure. Not too many years ago they were kind of like we are in size. The three western integrating universities have about 13,000 plus students that are fully online.

“Arizona did have growing pains, they’re a big player right now. We’re looking to benefit from some of their experiences. They’ve been fantastic to work with because they understand who we are and the challenges that we have.

Will NCAA recognize sports teams from all three universities?

“The Bloomsburg president has been on the NCAA division membership committee from the beginning. He’s been very involved and engaged in those conversations going forward. The first step in this process was to get the PASSHE Board of Governors’ approval, and the next piece is our Middle States Accreditation because that is what enables us to provide degrees and be eligible for federal financial aid.

“We just submitted our Complex Substantive Change Document two weeks ago, and we’ll be working back and forth with Middle States with an expectation in March of next year, they will grant us accreditation under the new entity. The NCAA has told us they’re not going to do anything until Middle States does. There’s really no sense for them to do anything until then.”

Debt reduction

Another force behind the integration is the reduction of debt within the state system. Much of the debt is related to foundations and other independent university-related entities borrowing money.

Schools were encouraged to establish private-public partnerships to pay for the residence halls and other non-academic structures. The bonds used for the projects demanded certain payments that increased housing rates for students, impacting enrollment at some universities.

The Clarion University Foundation, Inc., paid for the construction of Reinhard Villages, Main Street Suites, and two other suites on campus.

“Last year we executed the master lease agreement with our Foundation where we actually rent the properties from them, and then they pay the bondholders. It’s great for us and the bondholders require a 20 percent profit.

“With this master lease, we’re able to lower costs of housing and we’re able to be more flexible. For example, in Ballantine Hall, we were not allowed to have students living there unless we reached certain occupancy rates at the other properties. With this release, we don’t have that. We’re exploring now how to open up a floor at Ballantine to provide another option for students who can’t or won’t pay for more expensive housing.”

The State System may also be using separate legislation to help lower debt.

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