Letter to the editor: Article on Outlier mischaracterized credit transfers and UPJ faculty involvement

We would like to clarify the inaccurate portrayal of our campus and programs in University Times article “Outlier arrangement with Pitt–Johnstown raises concerns,” written by Donovan Harrell that ran Dec. 4.

The University Times published a quote by Jeff Aziz, a senior lecturer and advisor in the English Department, which stated there are restrictions on transferring credits from Pitt’s regional campuses. The statement attributed to Mr. Aziz is inaccurate. Pitt–Johnstown’s math courses always count toward a student’s earned credits and are included on the student’s transcript.

Various math courses offered at Pitt–Johnstown satisfy general education requirements for students if they relocate to other campuses. Many departments will also use the calculus courses completed at Pitt–Johnstown to satisfy major requirements, if the student achieves the required grade minimum. All courses taken at any University of Pittsburgh campus appear on a student’s Pitt transcript, regardless of the campus at which the courses are taken. While courses taken at one Pitt campus may not fulfill a specific major requirement at another campus, all are included in the student’s University of Pittsburgh academic record. It goes without saying, every student who graduates at a regional campus has the same degree from the University of Pittsburgh. This is just one of the many reasons why we say with pride, “five campuses, one university.”

Contrary to the portrayal in the University Times article, the partnership with Outlier was a product of several consultations and conversations between the administration and the faculty. Dr. Barbara Petrosky, UPJ Faculty Senate president, stated that faculty “strongly disagree with the erroneous assertion” in the article, noting also that the administration and the faculty discussed the Outlier partnership “at length” during Faculty Senate Council and at a Faculty Senate meeting. While several faculty members had questions and concerns, Dr. Petrosky said the administration “responded to all questions and addressed faculty concerns.”

Of note, we were gratified that our partnership with Outlier, that focuses on expanding access and affordability to quality education, was selected by Time Magazine as one of the top 100 innovations of 2020!

The overall tenor of the article may unwittingly reinforce misconceptions about the quality and academic rigor of Pitt regional campuses. Pitt–Johnstown people, particularly our exceptional faculty who take great pride in the excellence of our programs, were rightly offended by the portrayal in the University Times. Nearly a century old and the largest of the Pitt regional campuses, Pitt–Johnstown occupies over 655 acres of natural environment and beautiful vistas providing a compelling background for a purposeful education. The combination of our people, program, and place contributes to exceptional results in preparing students for success in the real world, leading to commendations such as:

  • “Best Regional Colleges in the Northeast" by US News & World Report, 2021 Edition.

  • "Best Northeastern College" by The Princeton Review for 12 consecutive years.

  • Pitt-Johnstown has been cited in US News & World Report along with Brown and Georgetown as “schools that build in-demand job skills.”

A vital center for intellectual, social, and cultural experiences, Pitt-Johnstown is also recognized as a major economic anchor that drives over $100 million of impact throughout the region.

Unsurprisingly, therefore, Pitt-Johnstown graduates are enthusiastically welcomed by employers throughout the area and the region, with many employers providing feedback about students’ high level of preparedness. For example, graduates of our ABET-accredited Engineering program, modeled after the world-class Swanson School of Engineering, are aggressively recruited. Pitt-Johnstown’s nursing program, with the same curriculum as the Pitt School of Nursing, produces graduates in high demand in health care facilities throughout the region and the nation.

Notably, the most recent nursing licensure pass rates are comparable to the finest nursing programs in the country. Likewise, alumni from other divisions, including Business and Enterprise, Humanities, Social Science, Natural Science, and Education, have also found success in their chosen fields, including the pursuit of advanced studies in notable graduate programs. Incidentally, our nearly 30,000-strong alumni community is a vital part of the 320,000+ Pitt alumni network worldwide. These successes would not be possible without our highly talented faculty of teacher-scholars and dedicated staff who provide high quality teaching, learning, advising, and other support in an “up-close-and personal” and supportive living-learning environment.

Thank you for the opportunity to clarify the misunderstanding. H2P!

Jem Spectar

President, Pitt-Johnstown