Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Harrisburg University faculty...confused?

Note: I make references in this post to the recent discussion at the Midtown Scholar Bookstore about Harrisburg University. You will see time stamps that look like this (00:00). You can match the time stamp to the recording to find the source of the quote.

As many of you know, on June 21, 2012 there was a public panel discussion about the issues surrounding Harrisburg University. The event was at full capacity. The tone of the discussion was generally cordial and respectful. There was a lot of good information and a lot of good questions -- there was so much information, the discussion ran long and probably would have run well into the night if the moderator hadn't kept it to a reasonable length.

There was one full-time adjunct instructor that attended the discussion. I don't know if he was there on his own accord or if he was acting on behalf of Harrisburg University. At (1:11:50), he asked me "How many faculty members are at HU?" even though 1) He's a faculty member so he should already know the answer and 2) a few minutes prior to his question I answered the same question with "12 faculty and 28 or so adjuncts" (58:18). He was driving at the fact that I don't agree with the numbers that HU puts out there in terms of faculty members, so I often don't quote the official figures. I explained why I don't quote the official figures, but I again said "12 full-time faculty" and "roughly 29 adjuncts". Those numbers are in line with what is listed with the U.S. Department of Education for the Fall of 2011, the most recent year data is available. (See: What is faculty?) He later goes on to state "...there are about 50 faculty members" at HU (1:17:35) which is simply not true. You can't count everyone that HU has listed as faculty, as many have never taught a class at HU (like David Burns, Mel Shiavelli or Stephen Reed) and  you can't count people that don't work there anymore.

Institute of Education Sciences, National Center for Education Statistics

He then asks "You're talking about retention numbers and you're equating that to declining enrollment numbers. Isn't it a fact that enrollment of freshman has about doubled each year in the last few years? I know we are going to have approximately 200 over the last year's 100?" (1:13:57) It appears he is confusing "enrollment" (student body) with "first-time first-year enrollment" (freshman). Sheila Dow-Ford eventually fields the question by explaining that the total enrollment numbers (even if freshman enrollment has increased) don't meet the projected levels of growth in order to meet the debt service. She explains that it's a "very basic arithmetic calculation."

Additionally, it isn't true that freshman enrollment has doubled each year for the past few years, nor was there even 100 of them last year. (See "Harrisburg University caught in another questionable statement about enrollment") Eric Darr stated that the first-time first-year (freshmen) undergraduate enrollment for 2009 was 69. So if that doubled for 2010 that would be 138 for Fall of 2010, 276 for Fall of 2011 and 552 for Fall of 2012. I'm going to go out on a limb and make a crazy prediction: HU will not have 552 freshman this fall.  The reality is that there were 69 freshman (according to Darr) in Fall 2009 and there where 92 in Fall 2011 (according to the audit.) That is only a 25% increase over three years. Darr recently claimed their were "140 committed" freshman (not 200) for Fall 2012. Historically about a third of those won't actually enroll, so HU will be back to a freshman class of 90 something again for Fall 2012. Growing first-time first-year students is a sign of better marketing, but retention is an indicator of the institution's health/quality. HU has seen modest increases in freshman enrollment, yet many of them still don't return for a second year. That's why retention is related to enrollment.

A member of the audience asks the adjunct faculty member "Are you seeing that your students are making it through the semesters when you say your numbers are up? Do the kids stick it out or do they have a hard time sticking in there?" (1:29:36) The adjunct replies with "Most of the students,  yes...there are few students that run into very specific problems...it's always one of three things: It's either a financial disaster within their family....they aren't prepared for college, their high school or whatever did not prepare them and then there is a third type of student that just doesn't want to work." Has Horatio Alger returned from the grave? Apparently in the adjunct's view, HU bears no responsibly for retention issues. Students drop out because of their own problems: Financial issues, not being prepared or not having a strong work ethic. I would say that a school that has a mission to serve underrepresented students and has open admission should anticipate that those students will have those types of issues and have a strong program in place to address them. If the institution fails to anticipate and address these issues, it's a fundamental failure on the part of the faculty and the institution, not the students.

The audience member then asks if the adjunct taught upper level courses and if those numbers carry over to the upper level classes. The adjunct states he taught a "400 level" class with "four students who entered it" (Did they finish it?) He also claimed that is was "normal" and apparently tried to explain away the low number of students by claiming it was a "graduate" class. (1:32:03) According to the Harrisburg University Catalog, 400 level classes are undergraduate classes.

A handy chart for future reference

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.


  1. The faculty need to grow a set and issue a vote of NO CONFIDENCE in both Eric and the board of trustees. They lack the integrity to do so though. Some are protecting their 6 figure salaries and some are complete tools like the guy you are talking about in this article. HU deserves to go out of business ASAP.

  2. Scott works for Eric. And yes, he's a dumbass.

  3. After a declaration of financial exigency, not reaching enrollment goals (again), rumors swirling about not making payroll, increasing workload, increasing class size, ANOTHER mother fucking VP...How could there be any doubt about what faculty *should* do?

    1. Go ahead, do something.