21st century time of transition for higher education
Residents of southwestern Pennsylvania are proud of their strong work ethic that many trace back to the hard-working, blue-collar examples set by their grandparents and great-grandparents.
These residents are equally proud of the institutions of higher education that populate this area and provided the foundation for new career options as blue-collar jobs disappeared in the changing marketplace.
Today, 10 colleges and universities provide a range of degrees and experiences in four of the five counties covered by Pennsylvania Bridges. Whether they have been in operation for more than two centuries or a half century, these schools face similar challenges in the 21st century.
For example, Pennsylvania’s overall population skews older since young adults moved to other areas of the country to pursue their careers while the Pittsburgh region transitioned from the steel belt to the rust belt to the manufacturing and technology hub that it is today. Declining birth rates in the 1990s further contribute to increased competition in the present day for traditional college-aged students. Government sources of funding for higher education have decreased over the past seven years as legislators seek to balance budgets and hold the line on taxes. Both parents and students are taking on an unprecedented amount of debt to fulfill their dreams of college degrees as the state and national economies slowly recover from the economic crisis of 2008.
The 21st century is a time of transition for higher education. This transition is marked by changes in how technology is used in the classroom, educational techniques, and different challenges than those faced in the 20th century. It is also marked by new leadership at the 10 colleges and universities located in Fayette, Greene, Washington, and Westmoreland counties, four of the counties in Pennsylvania Bridges‘ coverage area. Each of these schools has appointed new leadership in the past 10 years. Six out of the 10 institutions have appointed women to lead them during this time of change.
Tori Haring-Smith, PhD, president of Washington & Jefferson College in Washington, PA, holds the longest tenure of the group. She took office in 2005 and is the first female president in the school’s history.
Sharon P. Smith, PhD, president of the University of Pittsburgh at Greensburg in Westmoreland County, also is the first female president to serve her campus. The fourth president in the campus’ 52-year history, Smith took office in 2007.
More recent appointees include Geraldine M. Jones who was named acting president of California University of Pennsylvania in 2012 and later interim president in March 2013; Suzanne Mellon, PhD, who was named president of Carlow University in 2013 (Carlow University offers classes in Westmoreland County at its Greensburg location); Tuesday Stanley, EdD, who took office as president of Westmoreland County Community College in April 2014; and Mary C. Finger, EdD, was elected president of Seton Hill University on June 1, 2014, as the campus’ 10th president.
Story by Susan M. Isola for Pennsylvania Bridges