University Holds Virtual Convocation

Sep 18, 2020

President Geraldine Jones updates the campus community on enrollment, integration, adaptation and more.


At the University’s first virtual convocation, on Sept. 15, University President Geraldine Jones used her State of the University message to praise faculty and staff who have adapted to teaching, supporting students and operating Cal U remotely.

“As a result of your expertise and innovation, our students are continuing on the path toward graduation,” she said. “They are learning what it means to be resilient, and they are seeing how professionals in their chosen disciplines can adjust to changing circumstances.”

President Jones also discussed the integration with Clarion and Edinboro universities, a plan proposed by Pennsylvania’s State System of Higher Education.  

The partnership “will expand educational opportunities, both online and on campus, and it will give each institution a better chance to remain accessible and affordable for the students in our region,” she said. 

Enrollment and Finances

The President shared the virtual podium with two members of her leadership team who discussed the pandemic’s impact on Cal U.

Dr. Daniel Engstrom, interim provost and vice president for Academic Affairs, reported that Cal U’s enrollment is up 0.63%, exceeding expectations for this unprecedented academic year.

The number of graduate students grew by nearly 6%, counteracting a modest drop of about 1.5% in the undergraduate headcount.

“We have done very well, and this is because of everyone’s efforts,” Engstrom said. 

He encouraged faculty to build connections with current students, become familiar with the new technology that may be used when in-person classes resume, and begin the advising process early, so students are ready to register for spring classes. 

Robert Thorn, vice president for Administration and Finance, reported that Cal U ended the 2019-2020 fiscal year with a $2.3 million deficit, primarily due to low enrollment and the impact of the pandemic on University operations. 

He discussed the State System’s Comprehensive Planning Process and outlined the significant steps required to achieve a balanced budget in the years ahead, including right-sizing faculty and staff to align with the student population, evaluating Cal U’s array of academic programs, and cultivating new, attractive program offerings. 

Thorn also discussed the pandemic’s impact on auxiliary operations. Cal U refunded about $4 million in housing, dining and other fees to students when the University pivoted to remote operations in March. Those refunds, plus the ongoing absence of revenue from dining and housing, created a significant deficit in the auxiliary budget.

Although the University has received $6.9 million through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act (CARES Act) and Utilization of Higher Education Emergency Relief Funds (HEERF), those funds are mandated to be utilized in specific ways, including direct financial relief for students, he explained.

Thorn also reported that after a long and complex legal dispute, an agreement is in place to repair the Vulcan Parking Garage, which was closed amid safety concerns in 2016. Defendants in the lawsuit will pay to repair the entire garage and reimburse the University for legal fees, engineering cost and lost parking revenue.

Extensive testing will be conducted before the facility is reopened, perhaps in spring 2021.

The pandemic pushed back the demolition of four buildings as part of the campus master plan, Thorn explained. Azorsky Hall now is scheduled to be razed in November 2021, followed by Keystone and Gallagher halls in January 2022 and the north wing of Morgan Hall in May 2022.

Print Services will be moved to Manderino Library and other offices in Azorsky will be relocated to Residence Hall B next summer.

President Jones closed by addressing a familiar question on campus: What will happen when she retires in January?

“I’ve been assured that Cal U will have a chief executive in place, on campus, to guide our day-to-day operations,” she said. “And I can tell you this: I will be an active, engaged president until my very last day in office.”

She urged the faculty and staff to continue moving forward, as she has done since her first days on the job.

“Let’s keep pushing ahead. Let’s make this a memorable semester for all the right reasons. Our future depends on it – and our students are counting on us.”