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For an eighth time, Indiana University of Pennsylvania President Dr. Michael A. Driscoll has stood before the university’s community to open the academic year.

At Fisher Auditorium Friday, Driscoll touched upon plans for IUP’s 150th anniversary in 2025, and a history being written for that sesquicentennial by Distinguished University Professor Dr. Charles Cashdollar.

“In a time when IUP and all public higher education face unprecedented challenges, and a need to adapt and change, I find it important to look to the history of this remarkable university,” Driscoll said.

Driscoll has seen a lot since coming to IUP from the University of Alaska-Anchorage in 2012.

“I am still here, not because I haven’t had opportunities to leave, and not because there aren’t places without the challenges we face,” Driscoll said. “I am here because I believe in you. I believe in IUP, and I believe in our mission. I am here because I know that we can and will come together, to do whatever is needed, to transform people’s lives, so let’s get to it.”

Driscoll was joined by Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs Dr. Timothy S. Moerland, University Senate Chairman Dr. David Piper, and IUP Association of Pennsylvania State College and University Faculty chapter President Nadene L’Amoreaux, each offering their perspective on the coming 2019-20 academic year.

L’Amoreaux said she could see things from a faculty member’s eyes or a union president’s eyes, but she also is seeing things from a parent’s eyes, as her daughter is an incoming freshman this year.

Moerland reflected on the history of an institution that began as a normal school 145 years ago, became a state teachers’ college 90 years ago, and a state university in 1965, “the same year that the fight for civil rights came to Alabama, and the same year that the first combat troops were deployed to Vietnam.”

Piper called attention to the System Redesign plan by the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education, including IUP and 13 other universities, to transform itself to better expand educational opportunities for students.

He said the University Senate, IUP’s academic governing body, offers “shared governance” that PASSHE could adopt for System Redesign. He took note of PASSHE Board of Governors Chair Cynthia Shapira’s July 12 statement that the state system is missing out by not having a systemwide shared faculty governance structure.

Driscoll said he’s “an optimist by nature (and) I like to emphasize the positive” but he also said he needed to be candid and direct about “where we are and what we need to do.”

After a 26 percent decline in enrollment over the past seven years, with a decline in population and high school graduations “in our key service areas” likely to continue and even increase after 2025, Driscoll said, “the likelihood in our professional lifetimes of returning to the days of 15,000-plus enrollment is slim to none.”

There has been a 4 percent decline in educational and general expenditures, and a 6.3 percent decline in the workforce at IUP from 1,553 to 1,436, but a 39 percent increase in the cost born by a fulltime-equivalent student from $14,360 in 2012-13 to $19,999 in 2018-19.

“(The numbers I mention) don’t include the cost of housing or dining or health and counseling services,” Driscoll said. “The price to attend IUP is still much less than the name-brand universities with which we compete,” but students still “are working more hours, are borrowing more money, are experiencing more stress and are too often stopping out or dropping out and not finishing their degrees. That means we are failing them.”

He applauded a change that came after Tom Wolf replaced Tom Corbett as governor in 2014.

“The current governor and legislature have consistently increased appropriations for the state system, and thus IUP, which has partially reversed the deep cuts made under the previous governor,” Driscoll said. “Still the commonwealth only covers about 25 percent of IUP’s education and general expenditures, or 27 percent if you include performance funding.”

L’Amoreaux said Harrisburg could do better, citing a U.S. News and World Report survey that for a second year in a row put Pennsylvania in 50th place among the states in higher education.

“We all need to continue to actively lobby our state legislature for significant investment in post-secondary education and to deliver on the promise of higher education,” L’Amoreaux said.

Without that investment, L’Amoreaux said students may “shop for the cheapest options rather than the best options” in post-secondary education.

Driscoll said “many of the right things” already are being done to address the situation at IUP.

“Our bold step last year, the University College, is bringing extra focused support to all of our students, particularly those who are most vulnerable,” Driscoll said. “It also provides a customer-friendly model and an extraordinary experience designed for undecided students. It removed barriers and the stigma of being uncertain about the future. We now call the students ‘explorers,’ not ‘undecided.’”

Moerland said a ribbon-cutting will take place Tuesday for the University College at the Stabley Library.

There also was, for the second time in the history of the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education, a tuition freeze “even though that increased (the) universities’ financial stress,” Driscoll said. He said his university supported that tuition freeze and has done other things.

“Gifts to the Imagine Unlimited campaign combined with the Foundation for IUP’s strong stewardship and greater flexibility granted by the (PASSHE) Board of Governors, have resulted in more scholarships for IUP than ever before,” he told the Fisher Auditorium gathering. “Colleges and departments are reaching out to students and potential students, to help them solve their challenges, working with Financial Aid, the Bursar and others, across unit and divisional lines, to creatively overcome bureaucratic and organizational barriers.”

A wide variety of topics was included in the remarks accompanying Driscoll’s in Fisher Auditorium.

While looking back at IUP’s evolution “from a normal school to a teachers’ college to a research university,” Moreland is predicting an R-2 status for the school in the next ratings by the Carnegie Classification of Institutions of Higher Education.

IUP now is among 161 “doctoral/professional universities,” a status shared in Pennsylvania with Chatham, Gannon, Immaculata, Misericordia, Robert Morris, Widener and Wilkes universities. Next step up is R-2, “high research universities,” a status including Duquesne, Jefferson, Lehigh and Villanova universities as well as 127 other institutions.

Top status is R-1 or “very high research universities,” including Carnegie Mellon, Drexel, Penn State, Temple and the University of Pittsburgh, as well as 126 other universities.

“We are working on the IUP Steamshop,” the provost also noted. “It is a creative makerspace, an incubator for the IUP community.”

IUP is seeking National Science Foundation funding for the facility, which draws its name from STEAM, the acronym for science, technology, engineering, art and mathematics.

“We have reinvented ourselves at our core and in very important ways,” Moerland said.

L’Amoreaux wished the audience “a positive and productive new academic year.”

Her comments come as IUP and other PASSHE faculty work with a contract that is past a June 30 expiration date.

However, PASSHE and the union continue interest-based bargaining, which focuses on collaboration instead of traditional exchanges of contract proposals. Both sides said this week that talks will resume Sept. 14-18 at the Dixon University Center in Harrisburg.

L’Amoreaux spoke about what her membership is doing to help the student body.

“Since 2014, IUP APSCUF has raised over $21,000 for the (Indiana County Community Action Program) Power Pack program,” she said. “This program is dedicated to combating hunger for public school students from insecure homes and backgrounds in Indiana County. We know that some of the students who receive this support will be our students in the future.”

She also said APSCUF has raised more than $38,000 in need-based scholarships.