President Urges 'Common Sense' Amid Rosy Enrollment Numbers

Published 01.11.2002

President News
Faculty & Staff

(The following is drawn from remarks by Dr. Davie Jane Gilmour, Pennsylvania College of Technology president, during a College-wide meeting to kick off the Spring 2002 semester.)

For the veteran employees in the room, I am going to make a radical departure from my practice in the past and share some thoughts with you today on a subject that I have purposely avoided for more than four years: enrollment numbers.

You will recall me stating at my very first all-College meeting, serving Penn College as acting president in January of 1998, that I would not speak to you about numbers but about people.

Counting, monitoring and watching the numbers is important, but taking care of the people is most important.

I break from that vow today because I have a sense a strong sense that some information needs to be "right-sized," as one of my colleagues would say.

Yes, we did have positive enrollment this past fall and look to positive enrollment this spring.

I want to put into context our positive enrollment picture.

There are no secrets or hidden information; there is reality and we must all step back and reflect or we will be blinded by the glare of the numbers.

For the Fall 1999 semester, we had a head-count enrollment of 5,389. For Fall 2000, we declined in enrollment to 5,320 head count. For Fall 2001, we recorded head-count enrollment of 5,539, an increase of 4.1 percent . . . and we have a right to be pleased.

BUT please compare that growth number with 1999 and you will see that the actual growth was only 2.8 percent.

Keep in mind also, that, when we build our annual budget for our Board of Directors, we make enrollment projections.

Another way to look at the Fall 2001 enrollment number is that we "exceeded budget" by 1.5 percent or, more concretely, 79 head-count students.

We need to also keep in mind that our growth has been very focused in primarily one school.

In the past two years, five of the eight schools lost head-count enrollment. One grew by three students and one by leaps and bounds 280 in Business and Computer Technologies.

Now, I share this information NOT to make comparisons between schools; each school plays a vital role in our mission. I do not share this information with you to cause concern or worry; we are a vital institution and can be proud of our enrollment accomplishments.

I DO want you to put our enrollment growth in context plain and simple.

I want you to understand these numbers and I hope that this clarifies why, in our budget building this year, we must be conservative and prudent.

I have asked for everyone to work to bring zero-increase budgets to the table. Yet, I know that is fundamentally impossible. We have new initiatives, we have increased energy costs and I could go on.

But we need to simply extend the reasonable, rational and responsible approach I have asked for in the past and be keenly aware of the revenue shortfall at the state level.

I have heard such a variety of predictions in what we could hope for, what we deserve, what we want or what we really need from our state appropriation that, at the present time, to speculate would be ludicrous.

I repeat, this is not a time to panic, worry or promulgate uncertainty. This is a time for a reality check and good common sense.

Time for some "Thank you's":

The "miracle building," as I call it and those people who brought the miracle to life the FORMER Hon building, became college property on Nov. 15.

What has been accomplished in that facility since that date is nothing short of spectacular! General Services cleaned the facility and I mean really cleaned and made a huge improvement on the overall look of the building.

A ramp was constructed and, starting Monday, students and faculty in Collision Repair will attend and teach laboratories in that facility.

Gary Clark and the shipping-and-receiving staff worked countless hours to relocate their operation to the new facility and they were up and ready before the holiday break.

THANK YOU for all your work to make this a facility part of Penn College.

The long-term use and future of the facility is garnering much of our attention. We hope to be in a position to make some firm determinations by early March of this year.

This is truly an incredible opportunity for the College.

No doubt, when we have our all-College meeting next January, we will be looking at a new Student and Administrative Services Center new homes for many offices located in the Academic Center.

In the year 2003, the Academic Center will become an ACADEMIC Center, a facility dedicated to students, filled with classrooms and faculty offices An environment with the sole purpose of fostering an appropriate learning environment.

I must tell you, that goal on the horizon is a very attractive one. ( I dare say we are doing our best to find a way to even air-condition the building.) VERY careful planning, identification of outside sources of funds and hard work lie before us.

But we are up to the task I don't know about you, but I cannot wait!

While we are all hard at work and anticipating the start of this spring semester, I share the following information with mixed emotions, but certainly pride that one of our employees has been called to active duty in the military.

A third -shift custodian, Max Charles, has been activated and is serving in Virginia.

I tell you today because I, for one, am proud to work at a College that provides for employees called to military duty. While Max is gone, we hold his job, we carry full benefits for him and his family for the duration of his call-up, and provide for six months of the difference between military and College salary.

In addition to this employee call-up, we have been officially notified of at least one student called to active duty. He was able to complete his fall semester and we will provide support for his immediate return to college when possible.

We anticipate more students being called and, of course, we know more employees could be, as well. Our good thoughts go to all in their service and we look forward to welcoming them back to Penn College.

Middle States is almost upon us, and I wanted to take a moment and recognize Doreen, Shope, Tom Gregory, Bonnie Powell and all the members of the Self-Study Steering Committee for their hard work.

I have regular communication with our Team Chair and the arrangements are falling nicely into place.

I am confident we will learn from the visit, as we have learned from the self-study process.

One aspect of the self-study looked at Governance and Governance gave me one of the most challenging recommendations to implement over the past few years: the smoking issue.

You will shortly receive a communique from me explaining the smoking and non-smoking entrances. You no doubt have seen the signs across campus.

Providing for implementation has taken diplomacy skills to a higher order, and I encourage all of you to visit the dictionary and read the definition of "compromise."

But I do believe we have taken significant steps to make a difference.

Jim Fitzpatrick (dean of student affairs) will be working with the Student Government Association in promoting the cooperation of students with the new approach to the entrances.

I ask for your patience, cooperation and assistance.

And I must confess: I, for one, am glad to check this one off my list. Read the communique and follow the information provided.

At the end of each semester, Veronica Muzic (vice president for academic affairs/provost) takes time to give us an academic report card a general look at how students fared for the previous semester.

Some information to consider:

"The bell curve" remains intact. Sixteen percent of our students this past fall were on the dean's list, which, for the first time, included eligible part-time students. Thirteen percent entered the spring semester on academic probation.

The additional point of good news is that, over the past three years, the number of new students on probation after their first semester has declined from 33 percent to 24 percent to 20 percent.

Now, do not get me wrong We would like that number to keep decreasing while we maintain our standards. It is, however, a number headed in the right direction.

Orientation for our spring new students is held this weekend. Saturday and Sunday also represent "move in to the residence halls" for all students. We are ready to go, as, I am certain, so are the students.

You no doubt noticed the wonderful staff-development activities provided this past week and in December during semester closeout week.

I encourage faculty and staff to take advantage of the WebCT training available; this is a great supplemental tool for your classroom and laboratory work, and I am pleased that the training piece is in place and ready to go.

PCToday was the central theme of our fall all-College meeting and I wanted to take time today to remind you: Please try and develop the habit of using this communication vehicle.

I know it is new, I know we are all tuned into paper . . . but I also know that, if you have tried it, you can find much information through PCToday.

New things are in the development stage, there will be a monthly photo contest to generate readership, and more.

To the dismay of some departments, I have asked them to work to link announcements and information to this vehicle.

The numbers of people going to the site are increasing and, with any new good or bad habit, it takes time to develop the habit.

I continue to ask for your cooperation and patience. Please forward suggestions, ideas and constructive comments to Tom Wilson.

Watch PCToday for information on the location of the Webcam. It has been relocated, and a better view of the Student and Administrative Services Center construction is available.

As no doubt many of you did, I did some reading over the holiday break . . . s ome for pleasure and some for work.

Of course, I found many quotes or ideas that made it to the "keep for future reference" file.

One that I keep being drawn to is one that speaks to feelings I have had trouble expressing these past few months.

We pride ourselves on planning, and we have demonstrated that we use and implement our plans. But, when you reflect when I reflect on the past few years, it is the unplanned that has made major impacts on our lives at Penn College.

College West for sale and now ours, housing students a vital part of our campus.

An economic market that made a bond issue possible to pay ourselves back for College West, build the Student and Administrative Services Center, renovate the gymnasium, renovate Lions Court and the list goes on.

A gift that we could never have predicted or even hoped for. HON Industries was a thriving part of Williamsport and, one day this fall, that all changed. Misfortune for the employees and, for that, we must realize our gain has negatively impacted many lives.

However, this gift was truly a miracle.

People may doubt what you say, but they will always believe what you do.

What we have done all of us together is extraordinary, and we are not finished yet.

Perhaps the most appropriate quote to close with today is from Sir Winston Churchill:

"An optimist sees an opportunity in every calamity; a pessimist sees a calamity in every opportunity."

I am most grateful to be an optimist and to be standing here today with many optimistic colleagues.

No doubt that, as we begin this spring semester, we will face any number of challenges. Some, we have planned for, and some will be unplanned. Regardless, together we will prevail for the mission of Penn College and our students.

The future is before us; now, let's go take care of it.