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New Carlow University president ready to guide change

| Tuesday, March 25, 2014, 10:42 p.m.
James Knox | Tribune-Review
New Carlow University President Suzanne Mellon talks with the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review editorial board on Tuesday, March 25, 2014.

Look for change at Carlow University in Oakland.

Without it, the small university on the steep slopes above Fifth Avenue won't survive, said new university President Suzanne K. Mellon on Tuesday during an interview with Tribune-Review editors and reporters.

Mellon, 61, said the opportunity to lead a university eager to embrace change to meet community needs was part of what lured her to Pittsburgh from Manchester, N.H., where she was executive vice president of St. Anselm College.

“It doesn't help us to wallow in the way things are. We are going to have to move things forward,” Mellon said.

She said she's awaiting the completion of a strategic plan for the 85-year-old school that the Sisters of Mercy founded during the Great Depression. Mellon said it will contain goals such as boosting enrollment, student retention and graduation rates.

The school enrolls about 2,300 undergraduate, graduate and online students.

Her objectives are large and long term: Increase enrollment from 2,300 to 5,000; boost the endowment from $20 million to $25 million, and then $50 million, with emphasis on scholarship money; and establish partnerships between business and academia to boost opportunities for students.

Key initiatives include providing career-oriented degree programs with internships; compressing routes to graduate degrees; and offering certificate programs for mid-career professionals.

Mellon pointed to a combined bachelor of science in psychology, a master's degree in counseling program and the possibility of certificate programs in areas such as analytics.

George Pry, executive vice president of the Pittsburgh Technical Institute and a member of the Carlow board for eight years, chaired the search committee that recommended Mellon.

“She laid out a pretty detailed program and, in the last eight months, she has attended to everything she brought up,” Pry said. “But it's not a thing you turn overnight.”

Carlow's move to transform itself occurs as small private colleges across the country struggle to survive shrinking pools of high school graduates, increasing costs and soaring student debt.

A recent survey of nearly 400 small private colleges, by the National Association of College and University Business Officers, found about half were struggling with declining enrollment, even though the schools provided tuition discounts averaging 45 percent.

Mellon said it will be critical for Carlow to differentiate itself, and marketing will be important.

“We have a well-respected hidden gem in Oakland that we need to shine a light on,” she said.

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