SRU’s Norton to present University action plan to State System

norton meeting

July 6, 2017

SLIPPERY ROCK, Pa. - Slippery Rock University President Cheryl Norton will present the University's 2017-2018 Action Plan to Pennsylvania's State System of Higher Education board of governors July 6.

Each of the State System's 14 universities is responsible for submitting a plan, which chronicles where a university has been during the previous academic year; where it currently stands; and where it is going in the next two academic years.

The format of the plans calls for each university to detail, in the context of university mission, vision and strategic direction: distinctive programs and accomplishments; opportunities and challenges; trends in enrollment; student success; and financial management.

Action plans also showcase alignment of university efforts with the State Systems' 2020 Strategic Plan.

"I am proud to be able to present SRU's 2017 Action Plan, that we've titled 'Experience the Difference,' to the State System as it is a plan for an institution that prides itself on making a difference in the lives of our students, our campus community and throughout western Pennsylvania," said Norton.

The three goals Norton will present are complementary to SRU's mission and reflective of the University's strategic plan. They are informed by the State System's workforce development report; the State System's persistence/graduation dashboard; SRU's performance indicator measures; the State System's financial risk assessment; and a Sightlines facilities review of SRU.

According to Norton, each goal offers opportunities and challenges, but is central to the delivery of the University's core mission "as a public institution that exists for the good of the public" and include:

-Goal 1: To offer a quality, flexible, agile and integrated curriculum and co-curriculum.

An on-going focus since Norton arrived at SRU, the challenge now is to continue to mature the University's areas of study to ensure that current and future students are exposed to a curriculum that is relevant in the 21st century; responsive to the needs of employers; has a strong liberal arts foundation; prepares students to compete in a global marketplace; and is integrated into the world outside the classroom.

"This development requires specialized facilities, on-line modalities, evolving STEM-H areas of study, international experiences and high-impact practices embedded in the curriculum - all initiatives that require new funding sources," said Norton.

"Our involvement with the Workforce Development Committee of the Allegheny Conference in Pittsburgh, along with discipline specific advisory boards, has helped to inform our curriculum development. This is critical because any new degree offering will always require additional funding. But if the market demand is present, we know they will draw students."

Norton pointed to SRU's addition of 15 new degree programs during the last three and one half years as evidence. Of those, 12 have been available to students for more than one year and all are meeting anticipated enrollment numbers. As a result, SRU does not have any "red lights" on its State System risk profile in those areas.

-Goal 2: To maintain an unwavering focus on success for all students.

For the past three years, SRU has been first or second in the State System for four and six-year graduation rates. That success is closely linked to the University's high persistence rate which typically tops 83 percent.

However, as Norton points out, that percentage is an average success rate that is not equally shared by all students. In particular, there are achievement gaps between the sub-populations identified as Pell eligible or under-represented minorities and the white majority students.

SRU's goal is to strategically focus efforts on those students who are most at risk of dropping out and being left behind. The most recent class of Pell recipients and black and non-Hispanic students matriculating in fall 2015 had a retention rate 8-10 percent below Asian and white students.

Although each student chooses to leave the institution for different reasons, preliminary collected data indicates that financial pressures, personal problems and difficulty connecting with the campus community are among the most commonly cited reasons.

"To address these issues, we have committed additional institutional resources to increase financial aid, add success coaches and to revitalize our former University Union into a Student Services and Success Center where a network of support staff will provide 'one-stop' assistance for those in need," said Norton.

"The major challenge to closing this achievement gap is our ability to recruit a college ready, diverse student body into a predominately white region. Butler County has a 4 percent minority population. In the Slippery Rock Borough or Township, the only minorities are our students, faculty and staff. Since 6,000 of our students live off campus, this community literally changes complexion every school year when more than 1,000 people of various ethnicities move back into the area. It is not always easy to provide an environment of support for our students off campus. We are beginning to work with the churches in the community to explore ways of extending a caring community to all members.

"Despite these facts, more than 10 percent of our students are classified as under-represented minorities. In 2015, SRU was identified as one of the top schools in the country for reducing the achievement gap. Consequently, while SRU does not have any red lights on its risk profile in this area, we can and must do more."

-Goal 3: Enhance physical resources and adopt sustainable practices.

Whether it is new windows, additional insulation, LED lights or energy monitoring systems, SRU's goal is to facilitate efficient energy usage on campus and reduce energy consumption. While the focus of this goal is primarily on buildings, it cannot be accomplished without educating the entire campus to encourage lifestyle changes.

From fiscal year 2014 to fiscal year 2016, SRU's energy usage was reduced by 11 percent with a 41 percent reduction in coal usage.

But failure to address aging infrastructure in a timely manner creates energy inefficiency as well as excessive cost for repair when failure occurs. The speed at which SRU achieves this goal, according to Norton, is to a great degree challenged by working with the Department of Governmental Services whose work timeline is "often unpredictable and causes delays."

Norton noted that when the University is able to supervise its own projects, timelines have been met. As a result, through good management of resources and anticipating future needs, SRU does not have any red lights on its risk profile in these areas.

"A record number of students chose to 'Experience the Difference' at SRU this academic year, a bench mark that was the result of three successive years of increasing enrollment," Norton said. "Undoubtedly, the development of new undergraduate degrees and the addition of professional master's degrees along with expanding winter and summer online offerings has positively impacted our enrollment growth. These changes have also shortened the time to graduation so that 50 percent of our students receive their degree in four years or less.

"Success, however, does not mean we can sit back and rest on our history, because our future is only a day away."

MEDIA CONTACT: Robb King | 724.738.2199 | robert.king@sru.edu