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Cal U plans to sharpen identity to survive losses

| Thursday, Feb. 9, 2017, 4:42 p.m.
California University of Pennsylvania President Geraldine M. Jones, gives her inaugural address during her inauguration on the California Borough campus, on Friday, Oct. 14, 2016.
Dan Speicher | Tribune-Review
California University of Pennsylvania President Geraldine M. Jones, gives her inaugural address during her inauguration on the California Borough campus, on Friday, Oct. 14, 2016.

Faced with a 20 percent decline in enrollment since 2010, California University of Pennsylvania wants to redefine itself as officials at the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education launch a strategic review of all 14 state-system universities.

The state-owned university, founded in 1852 as a teacher training institute, will increase its emphasis on science and technology, university President Geraldine Jones said Thursday while addressing faculty and staff at spring semester convocation ceremonies.

“Cal U has a strong and distinctive identity that sets it apart from other universities in our region and across Pennsylvania. This long-standing special mission in science and technology can guide our way forward as we re-engineer Cal U for a new generation,” Jones said. “And it benefits our university by creating a distinct and sustainable identity that will make Cal U the preferred choice for capable, career-focused students, now and in the years ahead.”

Her announcement comes two weeks after State System Chancellor Frank Brogan called current operations unsustainable. He requested a sweeping review of the system, which enrolls about 105,000 students at schools including California, Clarion, Edinboro, Indiana and Slippery Rock universities in Western Pennsylvania.

Enrollment declined at all but two state-system universities during the past six years as the pool of new high school graduates contracted, state subsidies shrank and tuition and fees edged up. At Cal U, located in Washington County, enrollment dipped from 9,400 in fall 2010 to 7,553 last fall.

“The prospect of a state systemwide strategic review gives us an opportunity to proactively define our direction as a university,” Jones said. “It is time to take our destiny into our own hands.”

Several new programs emphasize the school's emerging identity, Jones told the group. She highlighted the addition of a doctor of criminal justice and an associate's degree in unmanned aircraft systems/drone technology, plus a bachelor's degree in technology management now offered on campus was added to the school's online degree programs.

In an online statement, Jones attempted to tamp down rumors that the university is backing away from liberal arts or its roots in teacher education.

“You will be able to complete your degree and graduate from your current academic program,” she assured students.

Jones added that studies have shown a vital need for “well-educated workers with STEM-related skills” in Southwestern Pennsylvania and that such skills will broaden opportunities for all graduates.

She also welcomed faculty, staff and alumni input.

“In the days ahead, all key stakeholders will have the opportunity to participate in organized listening sessions and working groups. I urge you to get involved,” Jones said.

Debra Erdley is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach her at 412-320-7996 or derdley@tribweb.com.

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