Print this page

Facing the Future

College and university presidents address challenges & opportunities
Rate this item
(1 Vote)

For this special feature, we invited the presidents of the region’s leading institutions of higher education to respond to the following: It’s a time of unprecedented challenge for higher education — with declining enrollment, increased competition, concern about cost and debt, and increasingly rapid technological change. How are you approaching your key challenges so that your institution will survive and thrive?


Allegheny College: James H. Mullen, Jr.

Higher education continues to evolve dramatically, as it has over the two centuries since Allegheny College’s founding. We have remained true to our commitment to educating students to become difference-​makers in their careers and communities. In a competitive environment, we’re also working even harder to ensure students and families know what sets Allegheny apart, including our outstanding undergraduate research experiences, our dedication to service, and our leadership in the national discussion about civility in public life.

We’re investing in what students want and need: developing innovative programs to meet market demand, enhancing buildings and technology to better facilitate the groundbreaking work our faculty and students do every day, and bolstering resources to support and engage students from a wide range of backgrounds.

Finally, we’re making clear the return on investing in an Allegheny degree. Through the Allegheny Gateway, we’re connecting students with the tools to apply their classroom learning in study abroad programs, internships and other experiences that prepare them for employment and graduate school. Many of these opportunities are provided by our loyal alumni base, which includes thousands in Greater Pittsburgh. This is a time of great challenge. But it is also a time of great potential at Allegheny.


California University of Pennsylvania: Geraldine M. Jones

California University of Pennsylvania is re-​engineering itself for a new generation by embracing its special mission in science and technology, a part of Cal U’s identity for more than 40 years.

We are building on our strength— career-​focused programs that engage students in active and applied learning. With an eye on the future, we are adding innovative programs in high-​demand fields, from an associate degree in drone technology to a tech-​focused MBA in business analytics.

Cal U has not abandoned its historic role in teacher education, and we believe that college graduates in every profession benefit from a background in liberal arts. But we are homing in on programs that blend academic excellence, innovation and applied education to create pathways to the STEM careers of the future.

At the same time, Cal U is prioritizing technology literacy for students in all subject areas. It’s clear that our graduates will find a wider range of career opportunities if they enter the workforce with STEM-​focused skills.

By re-​emphasizing California’s special mission in science and technology, we are forging a sustainable identity that will make Cal U the preferred choice for capable, career-​focused students, now and in the years ahead.


Carlow University: Suzanne K. Mellon

This time of unprecedented challenge is also one of unprecedented opportunity, especially as an innovative, Catholic university answering our historic and ongoing commitment to serve our region’s needs. As a member of the Allegheny Conference’s Workforce Development Committee, I know how critical it is for universities such as Carlow to connect with area businesses to provide the right opportunities for degree completion and up-​credentialing. As the recent Inflection Point report noted, we need to make sure students and employees are lifelong learners. Employees need to be able to up-​skill on the job, businesses need to make tuition remission a key feature of a great workplace, and our universities need to offer the learning they need as students. Carlow’s agreements with our community college partners are an important part of this imperative. So are our new micromaster’s certificates that allow professionals to earn credits in of-​the-​moment and in-​demand areas of expertise, as well as prepare for industry certification in project management, human resource management, healthcare and fighting white-​collar crime. And, in a year when both drug deaths and suicides among emergency workers have reached record highs, Carlow’s programs in drug, alcohol and trauma counseling can help up-​skill our region’s clinicians as well. These efficient and cost-​bundled credits let employees and employers meet each other at the intersection of need for new skills and demand for professional development.


Carnegie Mellon University: Subra Suresh

At Carnegie Mellon, we are dedicated to doing work that matters. Through a collaborative approach that involves students, faculty and staff from across disciplines, we take on some of the world’s most pressing challenges. This approach allows us to team the computer scientist with the psychologist, the engineer with the artist, to help ensure emerging technologies positively impact the human condition.

In the same spirit, we are committed to enhancing the CMU experience, helping our students, faculty and staff to thrive. This includes major initiatives that address personal health and well-​being, diversity, infrastructure and financial aid.

Some examples: CMU’s Board of Trustees approved a new health and wellness center, which will double the space dedicated to physical, mental and emotional health, student success and community engagement. Other projects will add classrooms, collaborative spaces, maker spaces, and fitness and dining facilities. We are also doubling this year the number of students in the Summer Academy for Math and Science (SAMS) which helps to prepare and motivate students from underserved communities for college education in STEM fields.

We know finances are stressful for many students and have made increasing support a priority. Permanent endowments supporting scholarships and fellowships total near $500 million, including more than $211 million added through our Presidential Fellowship and Scholarships Program.

By enhancing the CMU experience, we hope to create a “One CMU” spirit which allows our students, faculty and staff to succeed on both a personal and community level.


Chatham University: David Finegold

It is a time of great disruption in higher education, but also a time of great opportunity for institutions who embrace change. At Chatham, we did this two years ago by making the difficult, but necessary, decision to transition our 145-​year old undergraduate women’s college to coed. This transformation helped us buck declining enrollment trends by more than doubling the size of our incoming first-​year undergraduate classes. When paired with Chatham’s unique educational offering— a beautiful liberal arts campus in the heart of one of the nation’s great college towns — our willingness to change creates a strong foundation on which to build.

We continue to adapt to today’s marketplace, by growing our strong professional master’s programs in highdemand areas such as health sciences, sustainability, and food studies; and creating new programs to meet the needs of emerging fields such as big data and healthcare informatics. We’ve introduced the Chatham Plan to ensure every student gains relevant work experience and enhances their employability. We’re also implementing multiple ways to lower costs and broaden access to Chatham degrees through strong transfer pathways with community colleges, dual enrollment with high schools, online and limited-​residency degrees, 3– year degree options, accelerated bachelor’s– to master’s-programs, and enhanced scholarship support.


Community College of Allegheny County: Quintin B. Bullock

With a well-​deserved reputation for delivering affordable, high-​quality academic and workforce technology programs, CCAC is in a unique position to deliver the type of responsive career education and training individuals need for success in today’s increasingly competitive global society.

Our industry-​driven, yet studentfocused, approach to education enables CCAC to adapt to market forces resulting in job-​ready skillsets beneficial to both employers and job applicants alike. We continue to work with business and industry leaders in high-​demand fields, including our region’s many skilled trades unions, to develop innovative programming that not only addresses current needs but also anticipates future workforce needs and industry trends.

But our efforts don’t stop there. Through partnerships with area school districts, CCAC offers students the opportunity to enroll in college courses during high school — providing students with the option of taking advanced-​level classes while preparing them for the rigors of a college education.

As a result of these and other initiatives, CCAC graduates have transferred to the nation’s most prestigious colleges and universities, have obtained highly competitive and advanced degrees and can be found at leading companies, organizations and institutions throughout the U.S. We are proud that our alumni are actively engaged in every sector of society, providing leadership both here in Pittsburgh and around the world.


Duquesne University: Ken Gormley

A time of unprecedented challenges for higher education is also a time of opportunity for institutions, like Duquesne, that have rich histories, a spirit of innovation and a desire to reinvent their mission for a new era. Since its founding in 1878, Duquesne’s mission has been a values-​based one: Unwavering service to its students and the community around it. Duquesne’s extraordinary graduates helped to build Pittsburgh and Western Pennsylvania. Today, we continue to sit at the epicenter of this region and drive positive change.

Duquesne has a beautiful campus overlooking the city, advanced technological infrastructure and fabulous undergraduate, graduate and professional academic programs. We continue to invest in these programs in order to create bold new opportunities.

As the only Catholic, Spiritan university of its kind in the world, we strive to provide access to students from all socioeconomic backgrounds. We continually rank as a “Best Value School,” because we work hard to provide a top quality education at a low net cost. Two of my own children have attended Duquesne; they wouldn’t trade that experience for anything.

The most successful universities thrive because they put the interests of their students first and live their mission every day. That’s why, even in times of new challenges, Duquesne’s star is on the rise.


Edinboro University: H. Fred Walker

Edinboro University has worked for nearly a year to proactively and collaboratively address the challenges facing higher education nationwide. From my arrival in July 2016 through late March, all constituencies of the university engaged in analysis of the university’s current status and are now at work to develop and implement transformative action focused on three key objectives: enhancing student success, balancing finances and refreshing our academic program array.

Already we have raised admission standards, launched a data-​driven review of academic programs, and announced four areas of distinction that will be our guide for future program development: arts and digital entertainment; business, applied science and professional programming; education; and social and mental health services. These four areas represent longtime strengths of the university. The academic areas of distinction build on the success in related professions of countless EU alumni and provide strong career opportunities for current and future students in alignment with the workforce Gap Analysis report commissioned by Pennsylvania’s State System of Higher Education.

Edinboro University’s strengths and collective resolve are far greater than higher education’s current challenges. We embrace this opportunity to develop a successful path forward as a privilege of our moment in history.


Geneva College: Calvin L. Troup

In difficult circumstances for institutions, a good first step is to consider the foundation of institutional life.

1. Purpose & Mission: Geneva College was founded to provide students with a Christian education from a biblical perspective in the liberal arts and various other professional and pre-​professional programs. Our mission is to equip students for faithful and fruitful Service to God and neighbor. We believe the purpose and mission are as necessary today as they ever have been.

2. History: We look to history rather than headlines. History tells us that for higher education the questions of enrollment, competition cost and technology are old news. While these are real challenges, they are perennial and familiar questions for educational leaders. They are just in new forms. We’ve learned that institutions are resilient — in many cases more resilient than other enterprises and ventures. Therefore, we don’t need to be reactionary. We can take care, and need not lose our nerve in the face of challenges.

3. Leadership & Strategy: History also teaches us that educational institutions are highly adaptable to changing circumstances and needs of society. Institutions thrive when the people leading them build new things that continue to faithfully address the basic purpose and mission of the institution. And from that foundation, develop new strategies and tactics to enhance enrollments, sharpen school identity, and make education accessible to students who need the institution, and respond rather than react to the everchanging conditions in human societies.


La Roche College: Sister Candace Introcaso

La Roche College was founded in 1963, and like most colleges and universities, has faced challenges throughout its history. There are two ways in which I lead the college through challenging periods: by letting our mission influence decision-​making, and by planning ahead.

I often remind our campus community of the college’s mission, the purpose for which we were founded and for which we continue to serve our students. We want our students to be lifelong learners and global citizens. We want them to receive a sound educational experience that will guide their professional and personal lives. I believe the stronger the sense of mission among our faculty and staff, the stronger our response will be to challenges that threaten our survival.

Preparation and adaptability also are vital to our success. Clearly the unexpected can (and usually does) happen, but if we build a culture of planning and if we are flexible, we are better positioned to respond to the challenges of the day.

To survive and thrive in today’s higher education climate, we must remain true to our mission, while exploring new and creative ways to carry out that mission.


Point Park University: Paul Hennigan

As educators, while we’re invested in helping students enjoy a rich social, cultural and academic experience, we’re always keeping our eye on the ball; that is, what can we do to help ensure that when students land their first job, they succeed. They succeed because they understand what’s expected. We sometimes hear from the corporate community that recent graduates are not ready to hit the ground running when they come to work and that they don’t understand the focus, discipline and just day-​to-​day responsibility necessary for a 40-​hour work week. That kind of understanding requires many things but perhaps the most important are good time management skills. It sounds simple enough but as a university, we needed to find a way to better immerse our students in a real-​world work experience. To do that, we launched a cooperative education program, or coop as it’s better known. Students work full-​time and earn college credit toward their degree while gaining invaluable insight into what’s needed to not only get and keep a job, but to excel and grow at it. It takes a certain kind of student to make this experience everything it can be, one where they may find out what they love to do and work with others who feel the same. It’s that student who will not only thrive but pave the way for others.


Robert Morris University: Christopher Howard

To paraphrase the late Chuck Noll, the problems facing higher education are great and they are many. First and foremost in Pennsylvania is that we compete for a shrinking number of students. I believe there are four ways to buck this trend:

1. Focus on retention: We have a moral obligation to ensure our students graduate on time. And, whereas it costs businesses more to acquire a new customer than retaining one, the same holds true for students.

2. Follow the Netflix model: Netflix uses customer data to predict their behavior. Universities have no shortage of data about student behavior we can use to ensure they “arrive and thrive” on campus.

3. Corporate partnerships: We need to expand our enrollment portfolio in order to include certificate and “badging” programs customized for employers who want to develop their workforce.

4. Embrace Pittsburgh: Pittsburgh is attracting investments from Silicon Valley giants and has rejuvenated energy and manufacturing sectors. But it faces a looming workforce shortage for some jobs that require degrees and some that do not. Robert Morris University is in the business of developing human capital and can provide the professionals this region needs.


St. Vincent College: Br. Norman W. Hipps

When our founder, Archabbot Boniface Wimmer, was faced with a poor harvest and a severe winter, he wrote to his friends in Germany, “Forward, always forward, everywhere forward. We cannot be held back by debts, by the difficulties of the times, by unfortunate years. Man’s adversity is God’s opportunity.”

Likewise today, Saint Vincent faces the challenges of the times with confidence and conviction that there is both a need in our culture for what we offer, and value in a Benedictine, liberal arts and sciences education that meets that need.

With assistance from many who believe in our mission, we will continue to enhance our campus with an engineering and biomedical sciences hall, now under construction, and plans to create a technology and information hub.

We will continue to add academic programs such as criminology, cybersecurity and engineering, partnered with our classical liberal arts curriculum, to serve the changing needs of our nation and our world; to strategically offer financial aid to keep the College affordable; and to work with an accomplished faculty and lean administration to ensure continued success not only for the College, but especially for our graduates.


Seton Hill University: Mary C. Finger

The higher education landscape is evolving and institutions must respond to important questions about the value of a college degree. A Seton Hill University degree provides the value of a liberal arts education coupled with professional degree programs that prepare students for graduate school or careers. Through Seton Hill’s new Office of Academic Innovation and Planning, our faculty members are developing new academic programs that meet the needs of regional employers and address rapid changes in the technology, healthcare and business sectors as outlined in the Allegheny Conference on Community Development’s recent report “Inflection Point.” Seton Hill recently introduced new majors in health science and cybersecurity, certificates in data analytics and software app development and new online MBA and adult degree programs that allow students to find their place in a changing workforce. Seton Hill’s nationally recognized Fit for the World career readiness program integrates career planning in the classroom and through experiential learning, ensuring that students are gaining real-​world experience through internships, research or study abroad opportunities. Seton Hill does all this through the lens of the liberal arts by preparing students to work collaboratively, think critically and creatively, and communicate skillfully to ensure they are ready to lead.


Thiel College: Susan Traverso

As Thiel College concludes the celebration of its 150th year, it has a plan for its future. The Thiel 2021: Student Success strategic plan was approved in early 2017. In my first year, I worked with faculty, staff, students and alumni to create a plan that includes programming that engages first-​year students and the College’s minority student population, ensuring that ever-​greater numbers of students graduate from the College prepared for lives of meaning and purpose. Inclusion and diversity are important at Thiel College. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, the College has the largest ratio of minority students among similarly-​sized institutions in the region. Thiel College has been coeducational since its founding in 1866.

Thiel 2021: Student Success focuses on three strategic goals. These goals are creating an inclusive learning environment, enrolling 1,100 students from a wide-​range of backgrounds, motivated to succeed in college, and increasing and strengthening resources through effective leadership, faculty, and staff development, financial management, fundraising, and partnerships.

Strategic initiatives are not the only developments on the horizon. A new $4.5 million science facility will be dedicated in October and a new track and field complex will be completed this summer.


University of Pittsburgh: Patrick Gallagher

A major challenge for many universities is the rising cost of providing a world-​class education. At the University of Pittsburgh, one way that we answer this challenge is by ensuring that our students receive the greatest value and return on their tuition investment. We do this by connecting our students to top-​ranked programs, first-​rate faculty members and cutting-​edge res earch opportunities. We also offer a rich array of ways to learn outside the classroom and support students in graduating on time or even accelerating their time to a degree.

Our commitment to cultivating a high-​value education is working. One of the greatest measures of our success is our alumni, who are now spearheading self-​driving car technologies, breaking down handwashing barriers in Third– World counties, and fighting on the f rontlines to solve complex issues such as cancer, inequity and addiction.

The best news is that these examples of success aren’t outliers. Within six months of receiving a bachelor’s degree, 94 percent of Pitt graduates surveyed are employed or working on their next degree. Our University’s dedication to preserving this value — no matter what the challenges — is one way that we stand apart from other leaders in higher education today.


Washington & Jefferson College: Tori Haring Smith

Washington & Jefferson College is one of the oldest colleges in the United States for a reason; we have a long history of innovating through trying times. In keeping with that, we are actively addressing the many issues facing higher education today.

Our motto is Juncta Juvant meaning “Together We Thrive.” Knowing that colleges’ fates are tied to their communities, we are investing in the region through initiatives like a business incubator. Additionally, we helped create the Pennsylvania Consortium for the Liberal Arts to collaborate with other schools on the challenges facing our industry.

We also recognize that, to be a part of a group solution, you have to provide value as an individual. We continually enhance our curriculum to address life’s rapid evolution while supporting an inclusive community. One of our innovative programs, the Magellan Project, allows students of all socio-​economic backgrounds to pursue self-​designed research projects. Subsequently, our post-​college placement rate is high and we have a robust network of alumni. We recently completed a successful comprehensive campaign, helping offset rising costs.

I’m confident Washington & Jefferson College will maintain our history of proactively facing the future through innovation and partnerships. In other words, we will continue to thrive, together, no matter the challenge.


Waynesburg University: Douglas G. Lee

At a time when prospective students and their parents are asking if the cost of a college education is worth it, at Waynesburg University, we can confidently assure them that it is.

Critical to our success is the clear sense of mission and identity that permeates the organization at all levels. Also critical has been the development of a team of extremely talented individuals committed to our mission, with the vision, passion and ability to lead the institution as a selfless team, making decisions based on what is in the best interest of the institution, its students and employees. With the right group of people working together to address today’s challenges head-​on, we continue to advance as the climate of higher education evolves.

We also work hard to maintain our value and keep our costs low. With 98 percent of 2015 graduates reporting working or studying within their chosen field, the value of a Waynesburg education is clear. Our tuition, room and board is more than $11,500 below the national average for private, non-​profit, four-​year colleges, and we are committed to remaining affordable so that a Waynesburg University education is available to students for generations to come.


Westminster College: Kathy Brittain Richardson

Westminster College has prepared for economic and enrollment challenges by remaining true to its liberal arts mission, and through careful fiscal and programmatic planning. Our analyses indicated that the addition of a B.S.N. nursing program in partnership with the UPMCJameson School of Nursing would benefit the college and its community, particularly by bringing a rural focus to the study of nursing. We also realized capacity for adding sports management, marketing, materials science, physics engineering, child and family studies, and digital journalism. Our four-​year Honors Program was refocused to include an international study component and to provide greater integration of the liberal arts curriculum across the Honors Scholars’ education. With high impact practices like a signature capstone, experiential and service learning, undergraduate research, and interdisciplinary courses, all students learn and apply skills that are important to graduate schools and employers. In addition to academic programs, men’s and women’s lacrosse teams were formed, offering additional opportunities for students to engage in highly competitive Division III athletics. Renovation and expansion of the college’s science center, its residence halls, and athletic facilities are also under way. These commitments are working. Undergraduate enrollment has grown the past two years, with entering classes larger than predicted.


West Virginia University: E. Gordon Gee

As a land-​grant institution, West Virginia University is a powerful catalyst for changing lives. For our region, the pathway to success is an educated citizenry. Consider this statistic from the Center on Education and the Workforce at Georgetown University: Since 2008, 11.8 million jobs have emerged in this country. But only 80,000 of those jobs required only a high-​school education. The rest required either a college degree or substantial post-​secondary training.

In this environment, we must move swiftly and urgently to meet the demands of a fast-​changing society. And we must stand up and proclaim the value of the arts, the humanities, the sciences and education itself as forces for increasing human understanding and solving humanity’s challenges.

To meet 21st century needs for leadership, our faculty members are nurturing our students’ questioning spirits — and helping them to understand that they have not only the freedom to speak, but also the responsibility to listen and understand. In education, research, and outreach, Mountaineers are digging deeper, venturing further and going beyond what is expected.

West Virginia University will thrive in the future as it has for 150 years — by advancing education, healthcare and prosperity for all and by leading transformation in our region and around the world.


Wheeling Jesuit University: Debra Townsley

Wheeling Jesuit University adapts to these challenging times by focusing on remaining attractive to incoming students while providing a rigorous education that prepares young men and young women for lives of leadership and service in their chosen fields.

For example, our new core curriculum gives students more choice and flexibility while ensuring time for service and reflection, which are hallmarks of our Catholic identity. Additionally, we are hiring a new Director of Career Services, who, along with career preparation and internship programming, will work with students to create portfolios to use in future job interviews. Finally, we are developing exciting new academic offerings to produce graduates that are necessary to our region’s workforce.

WJU remains committed to a quality education at a reasonable cost. Unlike many other institutions, tuition and fees will not be increased next year. By focusing on both quality and value, we at Wheeling Jesuit University show our commitment to our mission of life, leadership and service as a Catholic, Jesuit University in the Pittsburgh tristate area. This focus results in over 90 percent of our graduates working in jobs in their major or attending graduate school within one year of graduating— a fact we’re very proud of!

PQ Staff

Questions or corrections? Contact us at .

Explore Related Stories: