Norton details SRU’s path to stability, eyes even brighter future


Cheryl Norton addresses the university community

Sept. 8, 2016

SLIPPERY ROCK, Pa. - When Cheryl Norton took the helm as Slippery Rock University's first female president four years ago the institution was facing what many deemed as the "perfect financial storm."

No new state appropriations had been allotted to SRU; personnel and operating costs were on the rise; and enrollment was on the decline.

Not exactly a rosy picture or the ideal way to wow the crowd. But at today's State of the University address, Norton set the stage for discussing the future by demonstrating just how far SRU has come in such a short time.

"Faced with great challenges, we looked to shape our future by cutting our expenses (by 9 percent) in order to reinvest those monies into our campus and curriculum," said Norton. "The result is a stabilized financial picture that has reduced our risk and has made SRU the second most financially stable institution in the system."

Norton also noted a variety of other factors that have helped reshape SRU's standing not only in western Pennsylvania and the State System, but the country.

"We've brought a variety of new degree programs online; expanded our graduate programming options; expanded our international partnerships; invested dollars into instructional technology and needed building renovations; and executed a variety of measures to better position ourselves in terms of energy savings and deferred maintenance costs," she said.

The investment in new programs and enhanced learning spaces is already having a great payoff. Although she cautioned that enrollment numbers aren't "official" until the 15th day, she hinted that this could be a record enrollment year for SRU.

As a result of the combined efforts of the University's dedicated faculty and staff, said Norton, SRU has garnered numerous accolades, which have included being named or awarded:

  • 2016 Green Ribbon School by the U.S. Department of Education;
  • Great College to Work For by The Chronicle of Higher Education;
  • Healthiest Employers of Western Pennsylvania;
  • 52 badges of distinction from College Factual;
  • Top 100 "Best Value" institution by ETC College Rankings Index; and
  • Named among the Top Four public institutions in the state, Top 25 Universities in the North and Top 150 public institutions in the U.S.

However, Norton said, as much as things change, they also stay the same.

State appropriations have not kept pace with State System needs. Since 2007-2008, there has been a 32 percent reduction to the State System's appropriation per student. At the same time health care and pension costs continue to take a huge bit out of the PASSHE budget, to the tune of $41 million annually.

Legislation, Norton said, is being proposed to review System operations and look at it long-term viability. The Board of Governors is also committed to exploring how to ensure a high-quality, high-value educational experience given issues that include: lagging state funding, fluctuating enrollments, increasing personnel costs, increasing operating costs and other challenges.

As to what that all means for SRU, Norton stressed that it is incumbent upon the University's staff, faculty and administration to again steer the University in the right direction and stay the course in the face of adversity.

"We must continue to build on our historic programming strengths and address 21st century educational needs with new, innovative and market driven quality opportunities to position SRU as the first choice, best choice for educational programming not only in western Pennsylvania, but throughout the region."

To that end, Norton pointed to a number of recent degree offerings that have helped make SRU an educational destination for many including bachelor's degree programs in: homeland security, health care administration and dance; master's degrees in business administration, physician assistant and music therapy; and a doctoral degree in special education.

However, it isn't programming alone that will continue to fuel SRU's rising enrollment and retention numbers said Norton. It will also take the continuing maturation and evolution of the campus environment.

"We need to create more opportunities for interaction among people from different identity groups and we need to help people develop the skills to relate to those who are different from themselves," Norton said.

"For this reason, I am challenging each person in our community to add their spirit and energy towards cultivating a respectful community at Slippery Rock University."

In particular, Norton asked the University community to join her in "reaffirming (their) commitment to our caring community by engaging in activities that enhance our community spirit," and to "lead the way as students, faculty, staff and administrators to ensure that we (remain) an inclusive campus community."

Toward this goal, Norton announced that SRU is planning a series of "courageous conversations;" professional development opportunities and workshops and diversity-based social events to bring together cross sections of the campus community.

"I'm asking everyone to please add your voice, your energy and your leadership to support a campus community that while be characterized as one with respect for all individuals," Norton said.

With that in mind, she announced three initiatives in the planning stages: the appointment of a diversity, equity and inclusion team, conducting a Universitywide diversity audit and forming a Center for Inclusive Excellence.

"For it will be through these actions that others will see the character of our institution demonstrated through our behavior."

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