Monday, June 25, 2012

Feds determine Harrisburg University not "financially responsible." Eligibility for federal financial aid seriously threatened.

Source: HU Audit for year ending 6-30-2011, Smith, Elliot, Kearns & Co 
Source: HU Audit for year ending 6-30-2011, Smith, Elliot, Kearns & Co 

This information comes from an audit from last year for the time period prior to HU's failure to make a bond payment and a default on a loan from Dauphin County. According to this document, HU did not meet the standards to be considered financially responsible for both the years ending on June 30, 2010 and 2011. HU violated the conditions of the zone alternative in 2012 by defaulting on a loan from Dauphin County and failing to make a bond payment in March of 2012. Additionally, it appears that HU's current poor financial position will once again disqualify it as a financially responsible institution. Thus, it will have participating in the Title IV program under the zone alternative standards for the maximum number of three years by the end of the year ending on June 30, 2012.
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watchinghu@gmail.com
HU students - got something to say? The press would like to hear your story. Drop me a note if you want your voice to be heard.

Harrisburg University caught in another questionable statement about enrollment

Source: HU Audit for year ending 6-30-2011, Smith, Elliot, Kearns & Co 

"The school welcomed 125 first-year undergraduates to its Market Street campus this week, compared with 69 last year, said Eric Darr, provost and executive vice president for the school." - Patriot-News, Harrisburg University doubles enrollment, Sept, 2010.

If Harrisburg University had 125 first-year undergraduates in the fall of 2010, then why do they say a class of 92 first-time students was the "largest freshman class in the University's history" in the fall of 2011?
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watchinghu@gmail.com
HU students - got something to say? The press would like to hear your story. Drop me a note if you want your voice to be heard.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Watching HU has a new URL

The Watching HU blog can now be found at www.watchingHU.com.  It is still accessible @ watchinghu.blogspot.com though, so no need to update links.
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HU students - got something to say? The press would like to hear your story. Drop me a note if you want your voice to be heard.

Harrisburg University panel discussion

If you are interested in hearing the recent panel discussion about Harrisburg University that took place at the Midtown Scholar on June 21, 2012 you can find the podcast here. You can watch a recording of the live stream here. I'll give you my take on the discussion ASAP, but I encourage you to watch/listen for yourself.
____________________
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HU students - got something to say? The press would like to hear your story. Drop me a note if you want your voice to be heard.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Harrisburg University is open admission

I've had some inquires about this. And yes, HU has an open admission policy. You can see this yourself by pulling up HU's institutional profile in the IPEDS Data Center. Go to nces.ed.gov/ipeds/datacenter, "Look up an Institution", click "continue", type in the name of the institution, then click on "reported data." You'll see this in the Institutional Characteristics section:

Source: Institute of Education Sciences, National Center for Education Statistics

The National Center for Education Statistics defines "open admission" like this: "Admission policy whereby the school will accept any student who applies." In Pennsylvania, students must at least have a high school diploma or GED to be admitted to a post secondary institution.

Harrisburg University's posted admissions procedures reflect this:
  • Apply online
  • Request that your high school and all undergraduate transcripts (if you’ve attended post-secondary school already) are sent to:

  •      Harrisburg University
         Office of Admissions
         326 Market Street
         Harrisburg PA 17101

  • Set up a personal interview (optional)
  • Submit SAT or ACT scores (optional) 
____________________
watchinghu@gmail.com
HU students - got something to say? The press would like to hear your story. Drop me a note if you want your voice to be heard.

What is faculty?

There seems to be some confusion about what constitutes "faculty". So here goes. The U.S Department of Education defines faculty like this:

"Persons identified by the institution as such and typically those whose initial assignments are made for the purpose of conducting instruction, research or public service as a principal activity (or activities). They may hold academic rank titles of professor, associate professor, assistant professor, instructor, lecturer or the equivalent of any of those academic ranks. Faculty may also include the chancellor/president, provost, vice provosts, deans, directors or the equivalent, as well as associate deans, assistant deans and executive officers of academic departments (chairpersons, heads or the equivalent) if their principal activity is instruction combined with research and/or public service. The designation as "faculty" is separate from the activities to which they may be currently assigned. For example, a newly appointed president of an institution may also be appointed as a faculty member. Graduate, instruction, and research assistants are not included in this category."

The Harrisburg University Catalog looks like this:

By my count that's 18 faculty members. 

Here is the same image minus 1 fake professor, 2 professors that don't work there anymore, 1 Provost that hasn't taught a class in at least three years (And BTW Dr. Darr, how did you get to be a "Professor"-- did faculty grant you the rank?), 4 "Administrative Faculty" (HU claims they aren't full-time faculty), and one President who never taught a class at HU.


But what about "Corporate Faculty"? 

In academia they are more properly called "adjunct faculty": 

"Non-tenure track faculty serving in a temporary or auxiliary capacity to teach specific courses on a course-by-course basis."

The HU faculty profiles page list about 30 or so adjuncts. I'm not familiar enough with the adjuncts to know how many of them still teach at HU or if they ever taught at all. For example, HU lists Stephen Reed as Corporate Faculty. To my knowledge he's never taught a class and doesn't even have a college degree. Is it fair to count him as faculty?

This is how the U.S Department of Education lists HU faculty in the Fall of 2011:

Source: IPEDS
I'm sure the numbers have changed since last fall, so these numbers are no longer accurate. The exact number isn't even particularly relevant. What is relevant is that students arrive at HU expecting to find 40+ professors and that simply isn't the case.

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Hello! Again.

I think my first post on this blog is worth repeating:

"I've chosen to exercise my right to free speech. Institutions that accept government funding and don't pay taxes need to be held accountable for how they spend our money. And students that invest $20K a year (much of it in government-backed loans or grants) have a right to know if their institution is acting in their best interest.

My wish is to help students get the education they deserve and improve working conditions for the faculty and staff. If I must expose questionable practices at the Harrisburg University of Science and Technology, then so be it. I have no desire to harm the institution or defame anyone. Therefore, if I have posted any information that you feel is not factual, let me know and I'll make a correction or remove the information. There are no trade secrets, internal documents or material obtain illegally posted or discussed in this blog."

Many, many people have contributed to this blog, it should be obvious that I couldn't possibly have discovered  much of what is exposed here on my own. But let me clarify: I'm 100% responsible for everything that appears on this blog. I authored every single word and no one else. To the best of my knowledge, everything is true. This blog by its very nature is a platform for my views and as such, I never claimed it was "fair". I don't publish all the comments I receive as many of them are libelous, ad hominem attacks or not relevant to the discussion.  That's the reality of it and I don't pretend it's anything else. 

Writing this blog has been an interesting journey for me, I was initially naive enough to think that the institution could be saved. After hundreds of hours of research and many conversations with people more in tune with Harrisburg politics and Harrisburg University politics, I no longer believe the University can be saved in its current form. The University currently mimics a predatory for-profit institution -- it lures the most vulnerable students, saddles them with student debt and spits 'em out at an alarming rate. This hits home for me since I made some bad education choices as a younger man and I'm literally still paying for those mistakes 20 years later. I suffered a back injury a few years ago which was financially devastating as I was unable to work at my chosen occupation. My wife was the sole provider in our home for a couple of years and embarrassingly, it has pushed us to the brink of bankruptcy. Even if we do end up filing Chapter 11, I'll still have tens of thousands of dollars of student debt. I don't want to see any more college kids make the same stupid mistakes I did.

I was pleased to see the nice turnout at the Midtown Scholar for a panel discussion on the reality of Harrisburg University on June 21st. I felt like a bit of a chump though when I saw so many members from the Harrisburg community expressing genuine concern about the issues surrounding Harrisburg University. I feel I haven' treated the matter with the seriousness that it deserve, so after today, no more Sandusky jokes, cry eagles or F-bombs.  I was reminded of the many honest and hard working people that poured their hearts and souls into making HU a reality. I hope they understand that my issues with HU are not an affront to their efforts, but rather I support them 100%. Harrisburg University is just going to be a footnote in the Harrisburg financial fiasco if we don't take a critical look at the institution right now and consider viable options to save what should be a valuable asset to the Commonwealth.

Sincerly,
Steve Barrows

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Harrisburg University, weasels.

You might recall how I've called foul on HU in the past for lying about...well pretty much everything. I recently called out the university for lying about graduate and undergraduate programs. Eric Darr, HU's Provost and soon to be Interim President claimed that "Harrisburg University offers 24 undergraduate and 35 graduate programs." While HU press releases claimed "Harrisburg University offers 24 undergraduate and 35 graduate programs." Of course, both claims are patently false. HU only has eight programs. HU stopped making the false claims for awhile, most likely due to complaints to the Pennsylvania Department of Education.

Ahh, but they are back at it again, trying to deceive the public into thinking they have more to offer than they really do. In a press release dated June 21, 2012, HU claims it "offers 24 undergraduate and 35 graduate program options". As if the lie is somehow acceptable if they stick the word "options" on the end of it.

This is exactly the kind of deceptive advertising that you would expect from a predatory institution.
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watchinghu@gmail.com

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Harrisburg University enrollment declines, does anyone care?

As many of you recall, I said back in October of last year that Harrisburg University "had a decrease in student enrollment in the neighborhood of 40-70 students". Harrisburg administration has been claiming otherwise. HU's Chairman of the Board of Trustees, Robert Dolan praised Eric Darr for "the recent growth in our enrollments". President Mel Schiavelli claimed in a June 6th radio interview that there was a "40% increase in enrollment each year for the past three years." 

So what's the truth?
We can't examine the official figures on IPEDS (Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System) as the fall 2011 data has not yet been released. However, there is another reliable source of enrollment data. The Middle States Commission on Higher Education (MSCHE), HU's accrediting body, reports fall enrollment data. MSCHE updated those figures in June of 2012. This is what they report in their statement of accreditation status regarding HU:

Source: MSCHE 6/19/2012

That puts Harrisburg University's fall of 2011 enrollment at 321, which is a decrease of about 50 students over the previous year.


Source: IPEDS
Source: HU Report of Self-Study 2008-09
Harrisburg University has missed enrollment projections for every year they made projections. It's clear that HU will not make its future enrollment projections. HU's failure to recruit and retain students is a fundamental failure of their tuition driven business. No students=No $.

Just a Ponzi Scheme?
Why is the Board of Trustees failing to act in the best interest of the University? The school's falling enrollment is a direct result of Darr's incompetence, yet the Board continues to support him. Mel Schiavelli has reached a level of public dishonesty where I can say "he's a liar" without fear of a lawsuit. Yet, the trustees have always fully support him. Which trustees are looking at HU and thinking "We need more of that! More lawsuits, more falling enrollment, more lies, more horrible retention, more loan defaults!"

Maybe the Board, Schiavelli and Darr simply don't care if the institution legitimately succeeds? After all, they have been wildly successful in getting over $100,000,000.00 from investors and the government. What do they have to show for all that money? A shiny parking garage with eight classrooms, comfortable chairs, a Hamster Ball of Science and a few dozen plasma TVs. Heck Senior administration has been stuffing their pocket with $5,000 a week paychecks for years. Who cares if there aren't any students?

The University appears to be nothing more than a Ponzi scheme at this point -- they keep up appearances in hopes of getting new money to pay off old debt, with no real hope of sustainability and no real substance to the institution. Since HU's genesis, that's been their modus operandi. Prior to 2007, the University had already "experienced several covenant defaults under its loan agreements" and had "requested several extensions of the maturity dates." (See the HU bond Limited Offering Memorandum) Here we are in 2012, and HU is still doing exactly the same thing with Dauphin County. They borrowed money, couldn't pay it back yet kept asking for extensions and more money.

Not only are our tax dollars directly funding HU, students are also using education grants and loans backed by the government. There are millions upon millions of our tax dollars flowing into a bogus institution. It's important that our local, state and federal representatives know the true state of affairs at Harrisburg University. HU does not deserve one more cent of our money.
_____________________________________________
watchinghu@gmail.com

Calling all HU students, past and present...

Got something you wanna' say? The legitimate press (meaning not me) would like to hear your story. If you had a great experience at HU or a not so great experience, let 'em know. You can drop me a note with your contact info @ watchinghu@gmail.com and I'll pass it along. Or if you prefer, drop me a note and I'll send you their contact info.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

$700,000...missing?

In 2010, Harrisburg University was awarded $400,000 by the United States government for "curriculum development and for laboratory upgrades, including the purchase of equipment and technology." The bill was sponsored by Holden, Casey and Specter. 




So where is the money? The labs where just built in 2009. The chemistry and biotech labs are still equipped at a high school level. They have never been upgraded. There is no computer science or physics lab. So where did the money go? Tim Holden also managed to arrange for the University to receive $286,899.00 in 2008 for "instructional programs that may include equipment and technology." Where is that money?

That's almost $700,000 from the Federal government and HU still lacks college level laboratories and equipment?! Maybe the money went for the $1400 Dyson Airblade hand dryers in the bathrooms and $900 Herman Miller chairs?
______________________________________
watchinghu@gmail.com

Wa Ching Who? Find out on June 21st! Will Harrisburg University administration defend themselves?

Friday, June 15, 2012

HU, we have a problem. Did Eric Darr overstate his qualifications?

Now that Mel Schiavelli has decided to flee Harrisburg University in search of better retirement benefits, HU is left with Eric Darr running the institution. Robert Dolan, Chair of the Harrisburg University Board of Trustees said about Darr:

"His experience will be essential as he guides the university during this period of transition.”

Well said there Bob! Shall we take a peek at Dr. Darr's curriculum vitae?

Humm it looks like his last job at HU was to "Maintain the effective and careful stewardship of University resources and the efficient administration of the University’s administrative and business affairs....Serve as Chief Financial Officer and hold responsibility for financial reporting, budgeting, investment management, and debt management."

How's that working out for you there Bob? You know about the 2006 audit from Brown Schultz Sheridan and Fritz that found multiple "reportable conditions" regarding "significant deficiencies". You know the ones where they say "Certain cash disbursements where not adequately monitored" and documentation for "draws on the construction loans where not adequately enforced..." oh and the other reportable condition where they said "Management did not adequately monitor the allowability of program expenditures and ...did not not document certain cash disbursements..." I'm sure you guys figured out what happened to all those undocumented "cash disbursements" right? Darr's leadership set the standard for HU's financial success, right?

I'm going to go out on a limb here and suggest that Darr's experience at HU in "the effective and careful stewardship of University resources" is not as good as it could be.

Oh, maybe Dolan is talking about Darr's past experience as a Chief Operating Officer? According to his official biography:

"Prior to joining Harrisburg University he was Chief Operating Officer from 2000 until 2004 at KnowledgePlanet, Inc., a software company located in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania."

Huh. That's strange. According to the curriculum vitae (CV) Darr submitted to the Middle States Commission of Higher Education, not only was he not the COO of KnowledgePlanet from 2000 to 2004, he didn't even work there for four years. [Correction: This CV was submitted to the faculty when Darr was appointed Provost. Sorry for the error.]

Eric Darr's CV 2008
Furthermore, Darr's claims on his CV don't agree with information from KnowledgePlanet:

-In December of 2000, Scott Mumma is listed as KnowledgePlanet's COO, Darr is not listed as a member of the management team.
- In February of 2001, Darr is still not listed as a member of the management team.
-In February of 2002, Dick Anderson is listed as the COO, Darr is listed as "VP and General Manager, Services".
- In August of 2003, Darr is no longer listed as a member of the management team. (That would coincide with Darr's claim of starting a "technology services company" in September of 2003)

The evidence suggest Darr worked at KnowledgePlanet from sometime in 2001 to mid 2003. There is no evidence to support Darr's claims that he was COO for four years or the Senior VP of Operations at  KnowledgePlanet.  (An interesting side note: Alan Todd, Knowledge Planet's Founder and CEO serves on the HU Board of Trustees.) It appears Darr is publicly overstating his qualifications.

Humm.. Darr also claims he co-founded "Kalsher & Darr, Inc., (January 1989 - May 1992) Co-Founder, Pittsburgh, PA." Maybe he was the COO there? Oddly, I was unable to locate any record of this company being in operation. It was never registered or incorporated in Pennsylvania, New York or Delaware. Kalsher also does not mention the company in his CV. Odd.

What did Darr do between Jan 2004 and Jan 2005 when he claims he was hired at HU?

There seems to be some very questionable claims on Darr's CV. Even jobs that nobody cares about are a bit sketchy. Consider his claim of being a Test Examiner in the 1980's: "New York State Civil Service, (September 1988 - November 1989). Examiner, Testing Division, Albany, NY. Developed, administered, and examined job analysis to determine critical skills, knowledge and abilities associated with entry-level New York policemen. Generated police test questions and simulation exercises based upon job analysis results." Really? So someone that was a Test Examiner for a year mucked about with the New York policeman's civil service exam? Does that ring true to you?

Dolan also said about Darr:

"He has had primary responsibility for our academic programs and the recent growth in our enrollments."

I don't think that is the compliment that Dolan thinks it is. Since Harrisburg University has missed enrollment projections for at least the past three years, it's not exactly the growth HU needs. This is probably because Darr has exactly ZERO EXPERIENCE in the administration of a university. None, nada, zip. This might also explain the worse-in-class retention rates at HU.

According to his CV, Darr did a 4-year stint as an Assistant Professor at UCLA between 1994 and 1998. Apparently, he was not tenured and decided to move on. He also claims he worked for Arthur Andersen as a Senior Manager from November 1995 through June 1997 and at Ernst Young from July 1997 through July of 2000. How was he working as an Assistant Professor in California, researching and teaching and developing classes while at the same time working as a "Senior Manager" in Atlanta or a "Co-Leader" in Philly? Something seems wrong there.


Conclusion
I can't say with any authority if Darr's claims are true or not. At the vary least, his claims are very questionable to me. We've already seen he has no problem telling a public lie when it suits him. He also has no problem lying to HU's accrediting body. Can this guy be trusted at all? If you believe his CV, he never held a job more than a few years in the business world. It appears his longest employment stint was as an Assistant Professor. Certainly he wouldn't be qualified as a Provost or President at any university based on either his business or educational experience. His dishonesty alone would disqualify him from any position at a real university.


So if a blogger can figure this out, why can't the Trustees?

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You can reach me at watchinghu@gmail.com


Thursday, June 7, 2012

Harrisburg University continues to be deceptive about student enrollment

I'm sure you've noticed how I've been complaining about the false enrollment numbers Harrisburg University has been reporting to the public (See the last enrollment related post here.) It's not illegal to lie to the public, but it is certainly unethical. Although it probably fails to meet the legal definition of fraud, it certainly is deceptive to prospective students and parents that think the institution is doing better than it is.  Students are making decisions based on this information and it should be honest and accurate. These numbers are particularly critical now that HU is borrowing money and using tuition as collateral.

Since this blog has been hammering away at Harrisburg University's deceptive public reporting, HU has made some changes to how they report enrollment numbers.

This is what they said a few months ago:

Source: www.harrisburgu.edu 12/11/11

This is what they claim currently:

Source: www.harrisburgu.edu 6/7/12

Well, that's a little different. If you read the last enrollment related post, you know that "enrollment" has a very specific definition in academia. So students that are "dual-enrolled" (high school students) and students that at some point in the history of the school took a class ("professional and "continuing education") are not enrolled in the school at all*. So if you go to a college and take a cooking class, you just took a cooking class, you are not enrolled in the college. Got it? [*Correction 6/14: This isn't exactly correct. For fall enrollment, dual-enrolled high school students can be and are counted as enrolled. (This is different than a 12-month total headcount.) This is bad news as this means that the fall enrollment numbers that I've been quoting include high school students, which decreases the number of traditional students who are paying tuition. Mea culpa.]

WTF is FTE?
You probably noticed HU stuck "approximately 400 FTE" on the end of their statement. They are counting on the fact that you won't have any idea what that means. You probably just assumed it meant there were 400 full-time students or something like that. Don't feel bad, nobody knows what it means outside of academia. Actually, most of the people in academia don't know what it means either since nobody sits around going "Dang, our FTE is tanking, we better get on the ball!"

According to the U.S. Department of Education, FTE is defined as "The full-time equivalent (FTE) of students is a single value providing a meaningful combination of full time and part time students."

If you take take a headcount of all your students, add up all of their course loads then divide that number by 1 full course load, the sum will be the FTE by student headcount. In other words if you had a total of 4 students, two full-time and two half-time, you would have an FTE of 3. The FTE figure will be LOWER than the actual number of students enrolled.

This is HU's historical FTE information:
Source: National Center for Education Statistics

This is HU's historical enrollment information:
Source: National Center for Education Statistics

So HU's total enrollment in 2010 was 373 with an FTE of 241. If we extrapolate from those numbers, HU would have to have a student enrollment of 500-600 students to achieve an FTE of 400 like they claim.

What is the actual current enrollment?
Still with me? So in the fall of 2010 there was a total enrollment of 373. HU's retention rate tells us that about 66% of the 90ish freshman that enrolled in the fall of 2010 did not come back for a second year. For simplicity sake, lets estimate 73 didn't come back for 2011.  That leaves us with 300 students plus the 100ish freshman that enrolled in the fall of 2011. So about 400 total enrollment in the fall of 2011. Again, retention rates tell us that HU will lose the majority of its freshman students. My guess would be that this year will be spectacularly bad year for retention, as students seem to have gained some clarity about their treatment at HU. But lets just stick with the 66%. That would leave HU with a current total enrollment of around 344ish. HU inflates those numbers internally by insisting that freshman "pre-register" for next fall even though they know most of them won't come back. HU's internal records therefore probably reflect about 350-400 total enrollment. For the sake of simplicity, I ignored some factors like transfers in and out so understand -- I'd say my estimates are +/- 25.

Conclusion
No matter how you spin the numbers, Harrisburg University still does not have "1022 total enrollment", nor do they have "approximately 400 FTE".
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watchinghu@gmail.com

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

"Ethically challenged" Harrisburg Authority board chairman linked to Harrisburg University


On June 6, 2012, The Patriot-News reported:

"For the second time in less than a week, a former board chairman of the Harrisburg Authority has been fined for ethics violations during his tenure...On Tuesday, the ethics commission fined [John] Keller $10,000 for a...breach of the state ethics act — namely that he helped hire his son, Jayme, as a contractor with the Authority...Keller’s son also was hired by Harrisburg University, which was repeatedly supported by the Authority through bonds and grants that Keller helped to approve."

You can read the full article here: 2nd former Harrisburg Authority chairman gets fine for ethics violations

According the the Harrisburg University Staff Directory, Jayme Keller is HU's Manager of Technology Services.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Is Harrisburg University doomed? Part 2

You may want to read Part 1 first.
-------------------------------------

Central Pennsylvania needs workers that are skilled in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM). Providing those skills through a coalition of businesses and educators seems like an ideal situation. It's pretty common around the world for universities to partner with business, there is nothing new or innovative about this.  (See: Has HU failed their mission?) Nobody expected HU to be up and running from day one, it was expected that there would be some hard times.  Yet a full decade has passed since the founding of the University and it is still struggling to survive. Why?

Bad Leadership
The University has long suffered from poor leadership. I've complained ad nauseum on this blog about the incredibly bad leadership. Ultimately, the responsibility for this rests with the Board of Trustees. Either the Board of Trustees is the most incredibly incompetent group of people on the planet or they are willfully supporting inept leadership. Their motivation for this is a mystery to me. I can only speculate that bringing in an outside person would expose the University's finances to an outsider.

The blunders that administration commits read like bad fiction:

Provost Eric Darr decided to hire Thomas W. Small to be the Program Director of Computer and Information Sciences. On June 8th of 2008 Darr said  “Tom is a seasoned information technology professional with an extensive background in strategy, enterprise services, hardware and infrastructure coupled with teaching at premier institutions of higher learning. Our students will benefit from the depth-and breadth of his experience.” Darr failed to mention that Small pleaded guilty in October of 2007 to stealing over $900K from his employer while working as...wait for it...their chief of Information Technology. Small was sentenced to federal prison just 20 days after Darr made his announcement. Awkward.

Then of course there was the China Incident.

And the $100K Hamster Ball of Marketing.

There was the "Information Support Center" for which Dauphin County gave Harrisburg University a $55K grant. Darr's chosen business partner was on the verge of bankruptcy when he made the deal. The company ceased operation less than six months after Darr's announcement. What happened to the grant money?

Also in February of 2012 Darr announced that the University signed a 10-year lease for student housing in downtown Harrisburg. This coincides with Darr's recent announcement that the University was going into the "student housing business". Darr conveniently ignores that fact that HU's current student housing isn't full because as soon as students realized they are paying an extra $300 a month in rent over similar housing, they leave. (Duh!) The obvious question is why is the University signing a 10-year lease and planning expansion when they can't make their current  loan or bond payments? Is that Darr's idea of fiscal responsibility?

And on and on...

No Endowment
Harrisburg University lacks a major endowment and thus, is tuition driven. This has predictably lead the university to act like a for-profit institution. Sadly, this means they have focused their efforts on recruiting and marketing. Again, I have complained ad nauseum on this blog about the false picture that university paints about itself. Everything from fake "Advanced Centers of Science", actual student enrollment, the number of faculty, the number of degree programs, spurious claims about NSF grants, the number of books in the library, false claims of job placement rates and on and on. Students are fooled into enrolling and leave in droves after the first year. (See Harrisburg University students run like Forest Gump) This is the exact behavior of low quality for-profit institutions.

Faculty Problems
I know "tenure" is a dirty word in today's political climate, but Harrisburg University is a prime example of what happens without a tenure system or other safeguards that protect academic freedom. Harrisburg University faculty are contingent faculty, meaning they have no job security. What this means is that the faculty that would normally advocate for students and academics simply does not. Harrisburg University has a long history of simply firing anyone that has a dissenting view from the administration. At most academic institutions the faculty are the professional educators and are a strong force in governance, tempering the business inclinations of the administration. At HU, the faculty don't have to be good at their jobs or conduct any quality research, they only have to agree with administration on all matters. At Harrisburg University, the faculty are just employees.

No research
Despite appearances, there is no substantial research being conducted at Harrisburg University. There are very limited facilities/equipment and administration simply does not support research. What this means is that Harrisburg University has nothing to offer local businesses and nothing to offer students. Why would any company partner with Harrisburg University? For example check out Sensory Science Research Lab at HU. The Hershey Company made the blunder of giving HU money. And in return? HU has done pretty much nothing other than let consumers taste candy. You know why? Because there are no food scientist at Harrisburg University and no scientist that are conducting food research.

Academics
Do you know for which program Harrisburg University is especially well known? That's right, NONE! Some programs are better than others at HU. Some of them should have been eliminated a long time ago. Assessing and improving academics is not important to HU administration, so it's simply ignored. The weakness of the academic programs hurts the University's reputation and is an affront to the students.

Accreditation
It's just a matter of time before Harrisburg University's accrediting body takes notice of the boondoggle that is HU. Perhaps administration feels they can just lie to them again and everything will be fine. HU's long history of dishonesty, serious financial problems and lack of qualified leadership are all valid reasons for Harrisburg University to lose accreditation. When HU loses accreditation, they won't be able eligible for federal financial aid. This will effectively kill the institution.

Failure to Retain Students
If you read  Harrisburg University students run like Forest Gump, you'll note that Harrisburg University has one of the worst retention rates of any school in Pennsylvania. HU's retention rate averages in the upper 30% range over its entire existence. There are many factors that can influence retention, it's a much discussed topic in academia. Provost Eric Darr has attempted various laughable schemes to improve retention, including making the first year course load very light (thus students are still freshman in their second year) and appointing a political scientist to be the Director of Academic Success (Lets vote for some retention!)

All kidding aside, a serious lack of retention is a death knell for a tuition dependent institution. No retention means no students, which means no tuition money. HU's business plan differs significantly from the reality.

 HU Business Plan 2006
Source: HU Bond Limited Offering Memorandum


Conclusion
Harrisburg University is a failure as a business and a failure as an institution of higher learning. It has successfully bridged the failure gap. The institution continues to doggedly follow a "curvilinear" downward path into oblivion with the same incompetent leadership. Harrisburg University's only hope at short term survival is a another handout from taxpayers. Under the current regime, HU has no chance of long term success.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Why did the Harrisburg School District give Harrisburg University over $13 million?

I think that's a pretty fair question. Particularly now that the Harrisburg School District is so strapped for cash that they decided to eliminated kindergarten. The Harrisburg School District is in deep financial trouble and has been for years. Sorta' makes you wonder why they gave Harrisburg University millions of $. Doesn't it?

Source: HU Bond Limited Offering Memorandum
 Source: HU Bond Limited Offering Memorandum
Many of you know that the Senator Piccola sponsored the Education Empowerment Act which ultimately put the finances in the hands of the Board of Control of the Harrisburg School District rather than an elected board. Guess who appointed members to the Control Board? If you said "Stephen Reed" then give yourself a high five! You might recognize a few members of the Board of Control, they include Calobe Jackson, Jr., Dr. Gerald Kohn and Les Ford. Two of those members where on the HU board of Trustees while the third had a spouse that was an HU trustee. So yes, members of the Control Board appointed by Stephen Reed gave millions of dollars to his pet project, even though the district was hundreds of millions of dollars in debt.This is the same Board of Control that Senator Piccola criticized for wasting the school district's money on Stephen Reed's consultant friends. "This is an inappropriate use of taxpayer dollars..."said Piccola.

[CORRECTION 6/22 - By all accounts Les Ford and his wife Sheila Dow-Ford acted with honesty and integrity and where not part of Steve Reed's shenanigans. I got my facts wrong on this one. My sincerest apologies to the Fords.]

I'm not suggesting that anyone did anything illegal or inappropriate in this case, but I feel it warrants further investigation. Even considering that Harrisburg University was in a real estate deal with the Harrisburg School District regarding SciTech, it's still a lot of money flowing directly from the taxpayer to a private university under questionable circumstances.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Is Harrisburg University doomed? (Part 1)

The short answer is "yes", Harrisburg University is doomed.  I really don't think at this point it will ever recover. In its current state it isn't worth saving anyhow. The school needed strong, fiscally responsible and experienced leadership. Instead, we got stuck with Mel "Do Nothing" Schiavelli, Eric "I have no clue what I'm doing" Darr and a incompetent Board of Trustees. In reality, not much has changed in an operational sense now that Schiavelli scurried away. Darr has always been responsible for the day to day operations at HU and he is directly responsible for its state of failure.

If Schiavelli had simply done his job and acted with honesty and integrity, he would have been a great president. He did a pretty good job at brining money in, he wrote nice fluff pieces for the media and schmoozed pretty well. This blog has hammered away at  Schiavelli simply because it appeared that he was intentionally misleading the public about the true state of affairs at HU. Good PR is fine, but it must done within the confines of strict integrity. Schiavelli needed to go. Good riddance.

Unfortunately, Schiavelli's departure leaves HU in a bit of a pickle since Schiavelli was largely responsible for securing operating funds for the university. The Roxbury News reports that Schiavelli has been securing funds from the Dauphin County since 2010. Without this money, the university would have ceased operation. Despite HU defaulting on a previous loan from Dauphin county and HU's failure to make a $1.5MM bond payment that the County had to cover, on Feb 29, 2012, HU officials Mel Schiavelli and Steve Infanti signed a $3.7MM loan document, promising to pay back Dauphin county. Incredibly, Dauphin County accepted future "student tuition" as collateral for the loan, even though they dont know how many studetns are actually enrolled at HU. Apparently the press coverage about HU's financial problems made the County Commissions re-examine their financial support for Harrisburg University. The Patriot-News reported "Dauphin County commissioners said this morning they don't plan to channel more county money to The Harrisburg University of Science and Technology. The pledge comes as some in the community voice concern about the finances of the private university, which has seen expenses consistently outstrip revenue. Departing university President Mel Schiavelli last week called the institution 'financially fragile.'" It seems pretty clear that HU was expecting Pennsylvania to give them another $22MM.

So where did all the money go? According to HU, they had 400 full-time students last year. The tuition is $22,500 per year. Some of the student's had scholarships and some where graduate students...so lets just estimate there were about 300 students that payed full tuition. 300 x $22,500= $6.75MM. Plus they had $1.2MM from from Dauphin county. Where did HU spent $7-8MM? Harrisburg University also reported last year that the "CONNECT Campaign Raised More than $44.7 Million", where is that money? What is HU doing with the money it is collecting from the parking garage since they aren't paying the HPA? And if Harrisburg University couldn't survive on all that money last year, how will it survive the coming year without more loans from the county? Back in June of 2005, Harrisburg University received $9,681,000 in operating grant support and $37,000,000 in capital grants from federal state and local sources support and $1,024,000 in support from private donors. Also the HU bonds totaled $87,915,000. (See the HU Bond Limited Offering Memorandum)


Where is all money?


(to be continued)