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Slippery Rock faculty union: Jobs at risk

| Friday, Sept. 13, 2013, 12:01 a.m.

The head of the faculty union at cash-strapped Slippery Rock University on Thursday urged his comrades not to wait too long to decide whether retirement is in the picture this academic year.

“Timely information this year may save our college jobs,” said Patrick Burkhart, president of the Slippery Rock Chapter of the Association of Pennsylvania State College and University Faculties.

Burkhardt spoke as part of university President Cheryl J. Norton's presentation to students, faculty and staff about the state of the university, which she warned has significant financial troubles.

The university is facing a $5.2 million deficit brought on by a “perfect financial storm” consisting of increasing expenses, including higher salaries and pension payments; flat state funding; and a declining birth rate that has resulted in fewer high school graduates throughout the region, Norton said.

Layoffs would be a “last resort,” she said. Some cuts could come through attrition from resignations and retirements.

Norton cautioned that the university's board of governors has said it won't increase tuition to balance budgets.

If left unchecked, Norton said, the deficit could rise to $29 million by fiscal 2015-16.

Even though the university has a student retention rate of about 80 percent, the student body is getting smaller, she said. The incoming freshman class is about 8 percent smaller than last year's. She expects the downward trend to continue.

Increasing enrollment “has to be a huge piece of going forward for this institution,” Norton said.

Even with an increase of 500 students next year, Norton said, the university would gain only about $3.8 million in revenue. For every 100 students the university loses, she added, the university loses $765,000. About 70 percent of the university's revenues come from tuition and academic fees.

Christopher Scott, 30, of Cranberry, who began teaching music and voice classes at Slippery Rock this semester, admitted that hearing about the university's finances concerned him.

“I see Slippery Rock as a strong institution, and our faculty and our administrators and our leaders, we're going to work through this,” Scott said.

Slippery Rock is not alone in its financial troubles. Several of the 14 schools in the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education have warned of deep financial problems. Edinboro and Clarion are considering job and program cuts.

Bill Vidonic is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-380-5621 or bvidonic@tribweb.com.

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