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.