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Robert Morris University in the midst of a student enrollment crisis

RMU to eliminate $4-5 million in employee salaries.

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Robert Morris University in the midst of a student enrollment crisis

President of Robert Morris University, Dr. Chris Howard

President of Robert Morris University, Dr. Chris Howard

Paul Wintruba

President of Robert Morris University, Dr. Chris Howard

Paul Wintruba

Paul Wintruba

President of Robert Morris University, Dr. Chris Howard

John Blinn, Assistant News Editor

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MOON TOWNSHIP — Robert Morris University’s staff and faculty members packed into Massey Hall Tuesday morning to hear RMU President Chris Howard speak about the current financial state of the university.

“We stand at a great challenge,” said President Howard towards the beginning of the meeting.

President Howard was joined by Ellen Wieckowski, who is the vice president of information technology and human resources, and the senior vice president for business affairs and treasurer, Jeffrey Listwak.

The trio addressed the decreasing student enrollment that is taking place at RMU and throughout western Pennsylvania.

In total, RMU’s total enrollment fell 12 percent since 2014. Alongside this problem, the number of Saudi Arabian students, a group of students that make up a large population at Robert Morris, has decreased 20 percent since 2016.

Listwak mentioned that both the fall and spring semesters of the 2018-2019 school years had seen slow enrollment.

With fewer students enrolling the university is receiving less money from tuition, which has put Robert Morris in a tough financial spot. The university is currently struggling with a “potential budget gap resulting from expenses exceeding tuition revenues,” according to a university spokesperson.

“This is a difficult decision to make, but it will result in a more agile university that is ever more responsive to the needs of the professional workforce in the Pittsburgh region and beyond,” said RMU President Chris Howard in a statement from the university.

The gap between revenues and expenses is expected to widen, also adding to the financial struggles.

In order to overcome this challenge, the university brought forth several strategies.

Possibly the most intense strategy proposed to deal with the student enrollment crisis is a voluntary and involuntary termination strategy. This would eliminate full-time staff members not covered by a collective bargaining agreement.

The voluntary plan was the first half of this strategy and offers employees the opportunity to give up their position on their own will and work out a decent severance package.

However, if the voluntary strategy does not provide a sufficient result for the university, they will then enforce the involuntary strategy. This will select workers to be released from the university without their own choosing, with a lesser severance package than if they decided to leave the university on their own.

Wieckowski said that this would be a “staff restructuring to try to save $4-5 million.”

For employees with service of 10 years or more, this would also include the elimination of staff salary increases and a decrease in 403(b) matches.

When asked how many people the university was expected to lose, Wieckowski said that there was “no quota.”

“This is a difficult time and we are doing all that we can to minimize the impact on you,” said Wieckowski.

President Howard also briefly mentioned that Robert Morris would be going from a five-school university to a four-school university. However, details were limited to this decision.

Dr. Ann Jabro, professor of communication, mentioned that four years ago the university had what was already considered a very lean staff and asked, “How could we afford to lose more people?”

Listwak responded by saying, “We have to have our headcount in line with our enrollment.”

It was also mentioned that in the past when faced with similar situations people of Robert Morris University have “stepped up.”

President Howard said that students are being recruited in other areas of the world, including India, where Robert Morris has a staff member.

On a national scale, President Howard explained that RMU is recruiting students in surrounding states, such as Ohio and New Jersey to name a few.

President Howard also said that he “stands by the programs we have put in place” and is “going to turn over every rock” to solve this problem.

When asked what the message for students would be in regards to this situation, President Howard replied, “We are going to do the best we can do to get you a good education.”

He concluded the meeting by saying that in this situation, he would “bet on Robert Morris every time.”

The plan is expected to begin approximately midway through March and should be finished by the end of March.

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16 Comments

16 Responses to “Robert Morris University in the midst of a student enrollment crisis”

  1. Rosanne on January 30th, 2019 4:54 pm

    Just curious….it wasn’t mentioned….will the president give up some of his salary and perks??
    Everyone needs to participate.

  2. Charlene on January 30th, 2019 5:58 pm

    Why were they spending so much on new buildings & renovations the last 2 years if they were in such financial trouble? I think that they are asking for the wrong people to resign. Maybe they should restructure some of the administration departments.

  3. Anonymous on January 30th, 2019 10:24 pm

    The President has failed this University. However he seems to think its okay because during his speech he made it a point to remind us not even he got a raise. Maybe if we didn’t build an over $50 million dollar event center (that no one wanted) we would be firing our staff.

  4. Anonymous on January 31st, 2019 2:04 pm

    Howard does not need a raise – he’s already grossly overpaid. Howard makes like $600K per year. That’s crazy for a school like RMU. And they built him a $1 million home in Sewickley, he gets a fancy car, and he travels all over the country and world on the university’s dime. Just check his Twitter account!. The dude sure gets his but everyone else can be damned.

  5. sharon on January 31st, 2019 3:08 pm

    MY Son was excepted 2015. they only offered 6 thousand dollars a year. WOULD NOT BUDGE for a afo American student coming into the school with college credits from a very good High school. they guy was rude and i was turned off. moving forward my son graduated in all Honors with summa cum laude at iup and now is in Grad school for his MBA.

  6. Anonymous on January 31st, 2019 3:42 pm

    I agree with the 3 comments above. This article is also going to dissuade new students from coming to RMU and has likely created a lot of disgruntled professors and staff (who could blame them? ). How will this impact the students currently attending RMU? Class sizes will be larger if you fire professors. Many students attend RMU for the smaller class sizes. If the cream of the crop professors leave, that will also result in loss of current students and reduced new enrollment. The tuition and room and board at RMU is not cheap. Where is this money going and who is accountable? It might be time to bring in a new president who will focus time and money on enrollment based on academics instead of sports. How disappointing to current students, professors, staff, parents and alumni. Why weren’t parents and current students notified prior to this article being released?

  7. Anonymous2 on January 31st, 2019 4:55 pm

    President Howard has most certainly failed RMU and the Board should be looking for his replacement. A university is only as good as its educators. The focus needs to be on education, not flashy sports’ facilities. You also need to market this school across the entire United States instead of just a few states. Make out of state tuition the same as in state. Update housing to be able to accommodate more students. You are firing professors as a short term savings. What happens when enrollment grows. What professor is going to want to work at RMU, especially the “best of the best”? This is a very bad and short-sighted solution. What about those of us with students currently at RMU? What if most of the professors voluntarily quit? Then what? What if the best professors quit? Then what? You are killing RMU’s reputation of excellence in education. Also, tuition and room and board at RMU are not cheap. Where is the money being spent and who is accountable? Why weren’t the students and parents told about this before this article came out? I am outraged as I am sure are all professors, administrators, staff, students, parents, alumni, and the community surrounding the university. This may also impact the current students from getting meaningful internships, acceptances into masters programs and jobs after graduation. Who let this happen?

  8. Anonymous on January 31st, 2019 6:08 pm

    Indicative of a school with a historically poor and short-sighted administration. This president and the last president have frankly failed the majors stakeholders: students, alums, employees. Those two men have not suffered personally, however.

  9. Al on February 1st, 2019 8:36 pm

    Perhaps President Howard did not need a 2.3 million dollar house in Sewickley when the university already rented a nice house in Moon Township. But I guess who needs a house in the same city as the school you are in charge off? The board needs to get its priorities in order and find someone who actually has experience running a university.

  10. Anonymous on February 2nd, 2019 10:23 am

    Dr. Howard makes too much money, his car is paid for so is his secretary. his house too. This man has been nothing but a leach to RMU. As a alumni, it’s sad to see it falling. How does this man make more than half a million a year.

  11. Anonymous on February 2nd, 2019 2:11 pm

    This article is pretty poorly written if the intent was to put information out to the public. The problem presented is the University is closing a school. That is, in fact, a solution to a problem that exists across the nation. Across the board, colleges are seeing a (predicted) decline in enrollment. That is the problem. Robert Morris University is dealing with the problem by closing a school, …. There is actually nothing unusual about this. Is it the right way to solve the problem? Perhaps there are better ways. Bottom line, this is a horrible spin on the information that needed to be conveyed to the public. Address the problem, so that everyone understands that this is not just an RMU problem and prospective students will understand that for the most part. no matter where they go, the school is somehow dealing with the same issue. RMU has such a tight enrollment to operational cost model that it can’t afford bad publicity, especially that created from within.

  12. anonymous on February 2nd, 2019 8:34 pm

    Perhaps Pres. Howard and his wife did not need to live in a 2.3 million dollar estate in Sewickely. The school rented a nice house in Moon close to the campus, but that was not good enough. The board should be forced to resign for agreeing to buy the home, an outrageous salary, a fancy car etc. If you are going to spend that kind of money perhaps you should have searched for someone who had experience running a university.

  13. Anonymous on February 10th, 2019 8:23 pm

    Commenters above are spreading more false information than journalists. Two of the five schools will merge and only admin staff is being reduced (due to redundancy) , not faculty (at least not yet). The presidential house was bought and had upgrades to support holding school events there, and it wasn’t 2 M$ (~half that). The new arena was paid for externally, like by UPMC (though it caused other expenses).

  14. Anonymous on February 11th, 2019 6:22 pm

    must not have done an adequate background investigation. He will bankrupt heaven.

  15. Anonymous on March 12th, 2019 10:36 am

    Chris Howard was President here at Hampden-Sydney College before coming to RMU. He is all about prestige and the almighty dollar, how he looks, how the College makes him look, getting his name and his picture in the news, rubbing elbows with big names, and traveling A LOT in order to accomplish that when possible. However, I think what he is striving for is to climb the ladder of success for fame–maybe he has political dreams–but he doesn’t care who or what he drags down to do it. He was not well liked when he left H-SC, and a lot of us breathed a sigh of relief when he was gone. Chris Howard thinks about no one but himself. Give up some of his salary and perks?!? That’s a joke!

  16. Anonymous on March 20th, 2019 12:07 pm

    The Howards have been nothing but a drain on this school since they got here. A multi million dollar home in sewickley that is still not good enough and needs constant renovations, cars, trips, catered meals daily all on the RMU dime while he already makes over 500k a year. Why does he have a salary at all when the school already pays for almost everything? What about the 500k salary of the men’s basketball coach, how is that helping anything or even worth while? Meanwhile many areas of the school and housing for students have fallen into disrepair and are outdated. No wonder enrollment is down.

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