JIM GEIGER, the new campus administrator for Clarion University, explained some of the details of the plan to integrate Clarion, California and Edinboro universities earlier this week.

CLARION – The integration of Clarion University, Edinboro University and California University into a new entity has raised many questions in the community, and Jim Geiger, vice president for university advancement, provided some direct answers and knocked down some rumors at the Monday meeting of the Clarion Rotary Club.

Clarion University President Dale-Elizabeth Pehrsson is also president of Edinboro and California and is spending every two weeks at one of the three universities. Geiger was appointed to the new position of campus administrator.

Geiger also oversees communications, marketing, fundraising and alumni engagement.

“I’m here to answer questions that you have, but there are still questions that are yet to be answered,” said Geiger. “The integration came about to help us be able to provide student success and outcomes, outcomes across the three universities. It’s no secret that we’ve had declining enrollment and so has Cal and Edinboro.

“As we review the contracts, we’re not able to offer all of the services that we’ve been able to in the past, including classes,” Geiger continued. “It’s an opportunity to really work together and take advantage of economies of scale.”

He said that a good example is this semester, with about 50 classes that are offered on one of the three campuses that other students on the other two campuses are taking advantage of online.

“There are classes on different campuses that people want to take and this will really streamline that whole process for them,” he said.

Geiger was quick to emphasize that a rumor about Clarion shutting down and offering all online classes is only a rumor and it is not true.

“Act 50 passed by the Pennsylvania Legislature, the enabling legislation to allow integrations, forbids any closures,” he said.

One question everyone asks is what will the “new” entity be called?

“There are a lot of questions about change,” Geiger explained. “We said from the beginning that one of the key priorities of this is to make sure that each campus involved maintains its name, maintained its legacy branding, athletic teams and mascots. I can tell you that we’re on that track and it is a fantastic opportunity.”

According to Geiger, design teams from California, Clarion and Edinboro worked together with a new name that was selected to figure out the best way to honor local names and keep local brands for visibility of the institutions and use as an umbrella brand. A separate umbrella brand is also being developed for the northeast integration of Mansfield, Lock Haven and Bloomsburg universities.

The State System Board of Directors is expected to reveal the new name for the western schools at it’s Thursday meeting. While Geiger said he could not reveal the new name, he did confirm that the name Clarion would be included.

“We’re really trying to stand this out and keep those folks here in Pennsylvania to earn their bachelor’s degrees,” Geiger said. “What we’re really looking at right now is how do we push that? We know about 50,000 students a year leave a community college with an associate degree and go to a Southern New Hampshire, a Phoenix, or other online school.”


Sustainability Needed

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“Certainly, financial sustainability is a big piece of this and we’ve already taken advantage of some opportunities,” Geiger said this week. “We have used Chartwells for 50-plus years as our food vendor and last year we began an RFP process with multiple universities to see if we can provide better service to students at a lower cost. We are now using Aramark at multiple universities, offering different options, different setup in terms of how they engage with college kids who don’t eat breakfast, lunch and dinner during the times that we probably eat those meals. There’s a lot of flexibility with the Aramark contract that really makes it nice for students to be able to eat when they’re able.”

Geiger also said that the 13 state universities don’t want to compete to recruit students, but work together for recruitment.

“We know that there’s a lot of crossovers with those schools, and we’re really going to push to have one strategy for enrollment that will have still have those multiple outlets,” he said. “For us to be able to get students in the top of the funnel and then help them define for themselves, what is it about a specific campus that you want as part of your experience? This should give us some opportunities to really grow the enrollment for the three of us.”

Geiger explained that the new “umbrella” brand will promote the online options.

“We’re working with Arizona State University,” he said. “They’re not going to teach our classes or design our courses, but they’re helping us with the infrastructure. Not too many years ago they were kind of like we are in size. The three of us have about 13,000-plus students that are fully online.

“Arizona did have growing pains, they’re a big player right now. We’re looking to benefit from some of their experiences. They’ve been fantastic to work with because they understand who we are and the challenges that we have.

Will NCAA recognize sports teams from all three universities?

“The president is on the NCAA division membership committee from the beginning,” Geiger said. “She’s been very involved and engaged in those conversations going forward. The first step in this process was to get the PASSHE Board of Governors approval and the next piece is our Middle States Accreditation because that is what enables us to provide degrees and eligible for federal financial aid.

“We just submitted our documentation or our Complex Substantive Change Document two weeks ago, and we’ll be working back and forth with Middle States with an expectation in March of next year, they will grant us accreditation under the new entity. The NCAA has told us they’re not going to do anything until Middle States does. There’s really no sense for them to anything until then.”


Debt Reduction

Another force behind the integration is the reduction of debt within the State System. Much of the debt is related to foundations and other independent university related entities borrowing money used for the construction of residence halls.

Schools were encouraged to establish private-public partnerships to pay for the residence halls and other non-academic structures. The bonds used for the projects demanded certain payments that increased housing rates for students, impacting enrollment at some universities.

The Clarion University Foundation paid for the construction of Reinhard Villages, the Main Street Suites and two other suites on campus.

“Last year we executed the master lease agreement with our Foundation where we actually rent the properties from them, and then they pay the bondholders,” Geiger said. “It’s great for us and the bond holders require a 20 percent profit.

“With this master lease, we’re able to lower costs of housing and we’re able to be more flexible. For example in Ballantine Hall, we were not allowed to have students living there unless we reached certain occupancy rates at the other properties. With this release, we don’t have that. We’re exploring now how to open up a floor at Ballentine for students who can’t or won’t pay for more expensive housing.”

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