By John Finnerty
At almost all of the universities in the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education, students moving for the start of the fall semester are arriving at campuses in crisis.
Even with a 3 percent tuition increase, eight of the universities have issued warnings that they may lay off faculty in order to stop their budgets from bleeding red ink due to dwindling enrollment and diminished state funding.
Clarion University became the first of the eight to indicate which departments would be targeted, as well as the number of layoffs, said Lauren Gutshall, a spokeswoman with the union representing university faculty. Clarion announced that the university will eliminate 42 jobs in addition to leaving 14 vacant posts unfilled. Among those who are losing jobs are 22 faculty members.
The other universities that may lay off faculty are: California, East Stroudsburg, Edinboro, Kutztown, Mansfield and Slippery Rock.
The austerity measures come as 11 of the 14 schools in the system have struggled with dwindling enrollment that depletes tuition revenue. At the same time, faculty are beginning work under the terms of a new labor contract that provides a top base salary of $110,038. The PASSHE system does not include state-related universities such as Penn State, Pittsburgh and Temple.
Entry-level pay for a professor is $45,695.62. The labor agreement also provides mechanisms for faculty to get additional compensation by taking on extra duties.
The highest paid professor in the state system of higher education was Kathleen Benson, an Edinboro University education professor who retired at the end of 2012. Benson almost doubled her base salary of $105,239. Benson was paid $16,970 for work associated with being department chair. In addition, she was paid another $28,803 for extra work. On top of that, Benson received $41,286 in compensation for unused sick time and other payments tied to her retirement.
Even as universities sort out which programs to keep and what jobs to cut, officials say it’s essential to offer competitive pay for faculty. Edinboro President Julie Wollman said that top-notch faculty members make their final decision about where to work based on a variety of factors, but if the pay isn’t competitive they won’t even take a look at a college.
At Edinboro the cost-cutting strategy will be unveiled by the middle of September, Wollman said.
“We’ve got to get the budget balanced. We’re going to take the problem by the horns and get our workforce the right size,” Wollman said.
Already, Edinboro University has taken steps to rein in spending.
These include mothballing some dorms that simply aren’t needed because enrollment is down almost 10 percent from 2009.
With the decline in enrollment, the student-to-faculty ratio has also dwindled. In 2003, there were 18.5 students per professor. Last year, it was down to 16.7 students per faculty member. Wollman said the university hopes to get the ratio back to around 18 students per faculty member.
That means leaving some vacant positions unfilled and it could mean layoffs. Where those cuts will be made has not been announced. Wollman said administrators have made recommendations, based on enrollment data and costs of programs.
If a program is costing more than it is generating, it might be vulnerable. However, there may be cases where a program is costly but is still considered too valuable to eliminate, Wollman said. For instance, the nursing program costs a lot, but it is popular and the university is offering a valuable public service to the region by helping produce health care workers, Wollman said.
Edinboro’s enrollment in 2009 was 8,287 and dipped to 7,462 in 2012, a 9.9 percent decrease.
While most universities in the system are struggling, Indiana, Bloomsburg and West Chester have seen enrollment gains.
This weekend, Bloomsburg greets its largest freshman class ever, 2,200 students, said Tom McGuire, a university spokesman said.
Because of the growth, the university has largely been able to absorb budget strains without cutting programs or considering the types of layoffs being eyed at other universities in the systems, McGuire said.
Ten highest paid professors in the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education, based on 2012 compensation:
1. $204,296 — Kathleen Benson (Edinboro University)
2. $197,073 — Alberto Cardelle (East Stroudsburg)
3. $190,313 — Kathleen Barnes (East Stoudsburg)
4. $190,055 — Ramesh Soni (Indiana University of Pennsylvania)
5. $189,319 — Richard Clark (Millersville University)
6. $186,475 — George Bieger (Indiana)
7. $181,201 — Sepideh Yalda (Millersville)
8. $177,730 — Frank Vento (Clarion University)
9. $175,181 — Rajendar Garg (Indiana)
10. $173,393 — Shala Davis (East Stroudsburg)
Source: Pennsylvania government payroll database