Declining Enrollment Prompts PennWest to Reevaluate Course Offerings
The faculty at PennWest University were invited to attend a Zoom meeting last Thursday to provide information regarding the streamlining of academic courses offered by PennWest-Clarion, PennWest-California, and PennWest-Edinboro.
Streamlining means that the university’s plans are being reevaluated in terms of what courses may be offered and still meet the core mission of PennWest.
Clarion University, Edinboro University, and California University merged earlier this year to form PennWest.
Dr. Dale-Elizabeth Pehrsson Founding President of PennWest University addressed the situation during the Thursday Zoom meeting stating, “We’ve moved through COVID and integration, financial sustainability, planning, launching a new university, and then the fall semester with all of our particular concerns, but also with all of our focus on our students.
“We’ve had a lot of changes in the last six months, and so laying that context out, I do say I am very sorry that you’ve put in a lot of work that has had to be changed,” Pehrsson said.
Pehrsson explained to the faculty that the current issue before them is the decline in enrollment.
“This opening fall we’ve lost about 1,500 students and when that is added to the students that we lost the year before, you’re looking at probably 20 percent, or one-fifth of our students in the last year that have disappeared,” Pehrsson stated.
“It certainly means that we have a lot of work to do…That’s pretty much where we are right now. That’s the dire situation,” she added.
With that being said, Pehrsson emphasized that the university needs to look at things in many different ways, acknowledging the need to adapt, and starting with the creation of a streamlined curriculum.
“Given our financial situation and the streamlining that is occurring right now is an iterative review that’s going back and forth between the faculty in various leadership roles, whether they’re committee structure, whether it’s union structure, whether it is in department, chair, structure, and administration.”
Pehrsson asked the faculty for a recognition to be taken into account that “there are simply not enough students to adopt all of the synthesized programs without streamlining some of them.”
Following the acknowledgment of the issue at hand, Pehrsson stated that the university needs to make decisions about what is needed at the core to go forward with streamlining. Through a reconsideration of some concentrations and some of the modalities of the way the faculty teaches, she stressed that streamlining can be accomplished.
“This is the beginning of a conversation; it is not the end,” Pehrsson pointed out.
It was noted that the streamlining needs to be justified in terms of the core mission and that it’s not always justified in terms of finances.
Pehrsson rhetorically asked, “What do we need to build for the future?”
She went on to state that the university must deliver in the fall of 2023, so “we start from the place of assuming that enrollments may decline even more. Then, we have to plan for it, especially since high school graduates are projected to decline again by 1,500 over the next five years, which means that is going to happen again.”
According to Pehrsson, the delivery of the modalities right now is so important because the students who PennWest wants to capture really are also included in the non-traditional–that 61 percent of the people in Pennsylvania, who really do need to be educated and skilled, get a good bachelor’s degree, or go on for graduate school or an associate degree.
“When enrollments for our new university at PennWest have stabilized in a predictable way, we’ll be able to consider new programs and concentrations,” Pehrsson stressed.
Even though the university must stabilize Pehrsson said it must be “true to the core.”
“We must plan so we can go on and continue to deliver our core mission. Our core mission is to educate Pennsylvania.”
Addressing the faculty, Dr. Pehrsson said, “We know we need to adapt…you’ve been adapting for the last three years.”
“That’s where we are right now,” she remarked. “It would be irresponsible of me to say we could do more than that. It would be unethical for me to say we could do more than that.”
The initial streamlined program array is the start of the work of matching the university’s offerings to the enrollment realities.
Pehrsson emphasized that the university needs to have something clear and sustainable for the fall of 2023, so that the students can enable it.
She also stressed that it’s important for students and staff to know that this transition will take several years, and students must be able to earn the degrees that they are currently enrolled in and these changes that we’re working on are not happening overnight.
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