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Clarion to suspend programs, cut jobs to close $8 million deficit

| Monday, Oct. 28, 2013, 11:45 a.m.

Layoffs and program changes at Clarion and Edinboro universities may only be the beginning of changes at the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education as it crafts a strategic plan to eliminate duplication and emphasize university centers of excellence.

Leaders of the 14 state-owned schools — including Clarion, Edinboro, Slippery Rock and Indiana — meet regularly to discuss how the system should adapt to declining enrollment and stagnant state subsidies, Clarion President Karen Whitney said.

Whitney on Monday released a revised plan to eliminate 42.75 positions and suspend two degree programs to help plug an $8 million budget deficit. Enrollment has slipped 17 percent at Clarion since 2010.

Clarion will re-evaluate its intercollegiate athletic program, whose costs Whitney termed “unsustainable.” It will add several programs and beef up efforts to see freshmen through to graduation. The university will realign its College of Education and Human Services into a School of Education and a School of Health Sciences.

Late last week, Edinboro University President Julie Wollman pared earlier layoffs from 18 to six full-time faculty positions. Wollman's plan eliminates 25.8 full-time equivalent temporary posts and five vacant positions, and suspends degree programs in German, philosophy and world cultures.

When programs are suspended, students are permitted to graduate, but no new students are admitted.

Edinboro, whose enrollment slipped by 18 percent since 2010, decided against suspending degree programs in music and music education. Clarion will suspend music education and language education/French.

Whitney said state system university presidents and vice presidents of academic affairs conducted “an over-arching dialog” as they weigh plans to focus on individual centers of excellence and avoid program cuts that would force students to look outside the state system for an education.

A spokeswoman for the Association of Pennsylvania State College and University Faculties, which represents about 6,000 faculty members at the universities, is skeptical of that claim.

The union has “not seen any plan from the state system to ensure that students will continue to choose a PASSHE university instead of looking elsewhere to get their desired major,” spokeswoman Lauren Gutshall said.

At least two other universities, East Stroudsburg and Mansfield, could make public their workforce reductions this week.

The state system, with 112,000 students, formed in 1983 to oversee universities that grew out of teacher colleges. A combination of fewer students, less money and growing salary and pension costs forced most of the schools to scramble to fill budget deficits.

The system's new chancellor, Frank Brogan, a former Florida lieutenant governor and university executive, was unavailable for comment on Monday. He is seeking a special $18 million state appropriation next year to finance realignment efforts.

System spokesman Kenn Marshall could offer no specifics about strategy: “It still is early in the process, but we will be reviewing all of these matters.”

To leverage their strength, Clarion and Edinboro are collaborating on a joint doctoral program in nursing practice. Clarion offers a degree completion program for registered nurses and wants to offer a bachelor's in nursing and degree programs in criminal justice administration and nutrition and fitness.

Debra Erdley is a Trib Total Media staff writer. Reach her at 412-320-7996 or derdley@tribweb.com.

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