SRU President Norton honors staff, lists University's accomplishments


SLIPPERY ROCK, Pa. - In a 30-minute address at the annual Employee Recognition Ceremony, Slippery Rock University President Cheryl Norton updated the campus on a myriad of projects and counted a long list of accolades the University had earned over the past year.

The nearly full Smith Student Center Ballroom event drew faculty and staff to see 103 employees honored for their combined 1,770 years of service to SRU. Pins, plaques and ceremonial medals were presented to those with 10, 15, 20, 25, 30 and 35 years service. (A complete list is at right.)

"Your service, and that of those to come after you, is why Slippery Rock University is known for the quality of its education. Thank you for all the work you have done," Norton said.

The president used the event to update the campus about the state of education in Pennsylvania and on the quality of education at Slippery Rock University. She said the phrase, "'We are faced with great opportunities disguised as impossible situation,' says it all. The great opportunity is a Slippery Rock University education, because we are an organization that is strong in its roots, rich in its history, with unlimited potential for the future. We are an public institution existing for the good of the public - and we are good."

As a series of slides listing the University's awards from specific agencies and outside organizations crossed the screen, Norton said, "We are known, not only for our quality here in Slippery Rock, for our excellence in the western Pennsylvania area, for standing above the crowd in the commonwealth, or across all of the United States. We are known for our academic excellence, we are known for our sustainability. We are known for our green emphasis. We are known for being safe."

"We are known for being military friendly. We are known for doing community service work. We are known for doing a variety of characteristics that we hold near and dear - and that you have helped us achieve. We are known as a well workplace and healthy people."

"We are known as one of the best places to work in higher education, and indeed, we are a College of Distinction and one of the best public institutions in the country. These accolades do not come easily: They come with a lot of work; your work; your time; your talent and your treasure that you have given to this institution - all with the purpose of student success. And our students are being incredibility successful. I am proud to be a colleagues and I am proud to be here today celebrating all of the work you have done and all of the achievements that we have acquired."

Norton said SRU was not just known nationally, "but we are at the top of the PASSHE system as well. For the second year in our history, we have been at the top of the system's Performance Indicator Measures, which measure student success."

"We have also been identified of one of only four institutions in the 'green' on our financial dashboard. This is an indicator that the PASSHE system has developed that will be used this year to identify institutions that are financially stable and secure. We are number three on this list, so 'Green' is good," she said.

"We are one of only three institutions that had an increase in enrollment in fall 2014. And one item I am especially proud of is that 50 percent of our students graduate in four years - and almost 70 percent in six years. We lead the PASSHE system in these statistics," she said.

Norton told the audience that despite a documented return on investment, state support for public education in actual dollars has been on the decline. "In fact, only one-third of 1 percent of state personal income goes to higher education. This, despite the fact, that we know that for every $1 invested in a PASSHE institution, at least $11 is returned to the economy."

She said $6.7 billion had been returned to the economy in the last year as a result of the 14 institutions: "That is a good return on your investment, indeed."

Norton outlined a number of budget issues facing SRU and the system for the coming year, including salary and fixed costs, pension costs, health care costs and operating costs.

Still, she said, "SRU will continue to do its mission of providing a high-quality undergraduate and graduate academic instruction to the commonwealth and to this region. We will continue to follow our vision of Slippery Rock being a caring community of lifelong learners connecting with the world - and those are intentional words."

"We will invest in our students, by investing in the University," she said.

The president said SRU had worked hard on balancing the 2015 fiscal budget as required by law, adding, "Fiscal year 2015's budget for SRU will be in the black. I can't tell you by how much; I can only assure you it will happen."

She lauded Gov. Tom Wolf's proposed $45.3 million legislative allocation increase to PASSHE. "That would be a wonderful change from the past seven years and one that we certainly applaud and want to see succeed."

"The appropriation received by the state system is essential to the University's ability to continue to offer high-quality, high-value educational opportunities that meets the needs of both students and the commonwealth," she said.

Norton said SRU is expanding its educational programs into new markets, including graduate programs and additional international student enrollment areas.

SRU has recently added new programs, including a master of business administration, which will graduate its second cohort May 9; a doctorate in special education; an online master's in English; a master's degree in teaching online; and the planned 2016 master in physician assistant program.

The University has other programs in the approval process, including an undergraduate program in petroleum and natural gas engineering, along with graduate programs in data analytics, and public health and a doctoral program in occupational therapy.

Major capital improvement projects, Norton said, include: the Performing Arts Center and Conservatory of the Arts; converting the University Union to a Student Success Center; upgrades to McKay and Morrow Field House; and a new safety management laboratory. The 33,000-square-foot Har-Mer Elementary School in Harrisburg. purchased by the Slippery Rock University Foundation Inc., will be renovated to house the physician assistant program.

She finished her address by noting that other nearby universities charge double, or up to five times, what SRU charges for tuition, but "I would not dare say, they do not top us with the quality," she said.

She urged those attending to help share the message that an investment in education is an investment in the future of the commonwealth.

Norton quoted Frank Brogan, state system chancellor, in saying, "The appropriation received by the state system is essential to the universities' ability to continue to offer high-quality, high-value educational opportunities that meet the needs of both students and the commonwealth."

"That is our charge, that is our mission. That is what we are here to accomplish," she said.

Karl E. Schwab