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October 9, 2003

Pitt-Bradford’s new president hit the ground running.


web UPB:alexanderOfficially installed as Bradford’s third president Oct. 2 at the campus’s 40th year anniversary alumni and family weekend, Livingston Alexander actually took over his duties Aug. 1. Already, the task force he appointed of Pitt-Bradford stakeholders has made recommendations for the college’s future, including how to improve student retention, recruitment and diversity, and strategies to increase revenue.

In a phone interview with the University Times, Alexander discussed some of his goals and strategies for the campus, which he said have been worked out through a consensus-building process of faculty, staff and campus administrators.

“First of all, it’s important to note that we’re on solid ground financially and, especially, with our academic programs, which are the most important thing we do here. We have the largest freshman class in our history and we’re very close to our 1,500 student enrollment goal,” Alexander said last week. “We’re in good shape with our campus facilities and we can draw on the extensive University resources in Pittsburgh, with the support of the provost and the administration, with whom we have a strong relationship.

“But that doesn’t mean there aren’t a number of challenges we face,” including counteracting dwindling state and other revenue streams and a poor economy, especially in the Bradford region, from where most UPB students are drawn.

Following introductory meetings with faculty, staff and administrators, Alexander asked a task force to assess the status quo with an eye toward identifying strategic plans.

“This is an abbreviated plan,” he said. “It’s not process-driven at this point. While process is important, this group is identifying the basic elements to reach a consensus on how we should shape our future — to create a vision, if you will.”

In the coming weeks, Alexander expects to hold an open forum on the plan to gather student and community input, followed by a review of the basic outline by the Pitt-Bradford advisory board.

The plan’s components include:

  • Reviewing and possibly restructuring academic areas, for “programmatic coherence,” Alexander said. ”Right now, I can’t predict how these things will go. But I think there are areas that need to be re-organized.”
  • Creating a mechanism to secure more grant money from external sources. “We’re looking to establish a program to generate other revenue streams, drawing first on the advice and resources of the Provost’s office, and using some outside consultants in fund-raising, grant-writing, encouraging entrepreneurs and other strategies. In short, we have to be creative,” Alexander said. “Of course, eventually we’ve got to do it on our own, but we’re looking for ways to support faculty’s efforts [to generate revenue]. There’s no single panacea, but this is the direction we have to pursue.”
  • Focusing on student retention and recruitment. “We’ve made strides in recruitment. To sustain our student population, for one thing we will need more residence halls,” the new president said. “We’ve got two in the design phase now, and we will be able to increase our beds from 554 to about 800 for fall 2005.”
  • Expanding staff responsibilities. “A key component here is asking all of us to be aware of the fact that we need to define our roles,” Alexander said. “While there is a consensus on this, we’re not clear on the ‘how’ yet,” he said.

“Our staff is overworked, overwhelmed and stretched, and it’s asking a lot for them to expand their responsibilities. But our efforts can’t fall only on the admissions staff. Also important is how we all greet students; how accessible we are; how much assistance we lend. We also might look to having faculty go out into the high schools, or go to [current] students themselves [to help recruit].”

  • Expanding educational resources to individuals in the region who can’t afford the cost. “We’re looking at this, but I have to feel comfortable that this is right for our campus,” Alexander pointed out. He said the idea stems from his experience as a higher education administrator in Kentucky, where there is a regional initiative at Berea College to provide low-cost and free education directed toward labor preparation to qualified children of native Appalachians and descendants of freed slaves.

“I’m looking for ways to adapt that idea to our region’s poor,” Alexander said. “A program like this might intermingle with financial aid packages, but clearly those [existing] packages will not cover the total cost. As with any new idea, what I expect is to look at it carefully, assess its feasibility, look at the pitfalls before making any commitments. But no one here has felt this proposal was out of place,” he said, because of Pitt-Bradford’s long-standing commitment to serve its region.

“Bradford’s economic problems are more severe than in other parts of the state,” Alexander said. “But the area has embraced the institution throughout its history, and this regional collegiality is an important first step: to talk about these problems together and build collaboration with our neighbors.”

He said that working with regional businesses, civic groups, economic agencies and school systems geared toward establishing degree programs, courses and workplace training will increase career options for the region’s struggling workforce.

This may mean expanding distance education and off-campus course offerings, as well as increasing the number of work-training programs, he said.

  • Increasing student diversity. “We already have students outside the county, including inner-city students from Detroit, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, even a couple students from outside the country,” Alexander said. “But we must increase our recognition that we live in a multi-cultural world and a global economy. We want to educate our students to value other races, genders, nationalities, cultures and backgrounds. Students need to be educated to develop familiarity and comfort levels with those that are not from the same background in order to better succeed when they leave here. We want to make this an important feature of our campus.”

Alexander said the most pleasant surprise in his new job is the overall commitment of the campus community to improve Pitt-Bradford.

“I’ve been learning exponentially,” he said. “I’m getting new insights and nuances every day as I meet with my colleagues at every level and as I evaluate our assets and resources. By and large, I would say I’m convinced we have more positive things than problem areas.”



Filed under: Feature,Volume 36 Issue 4

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