Pitt’s Board of Trustees unanimously approved a resolution Friday endorsing a strategy to transform the University’s Titusville branch into an educational and training hub that will share space with corporations, community colleges and other outside groups.
But prior to the Board’s vote on the resolution, about 10 members of Pitt’s Fossil Free Pitt Coalition, all wearing bright orange shirts with the word “Divest” emblazoned in white across the front, stood up and walked out of the William Pitt Union Ballroom.
Jonathan Nigra, a junior environmental studies major who participated in the demonstration, said its purpose was to raise awareness of the Coalition’s continuing fight for University divestment from fossil fuels.
“We want to show [the Board] we’re still on campus, that we still care,” he said. “We wanted to establish a presence.”
University spokesperson Kevin Zwick said there is a committee of Pitt staff, faculty and students that is reviewing the issue of divestment and that the University is awaiting its findings.
Nigra said the Coalition is glad the Board created an ad hoc committee to consider how Pitt can sustainably divest from the fossil fuel industry, but the Coalition wants to make it permanent. The group is currently circulating a petition encouraging the Board to do so.
After the demonstration, the Board spent much of the meeting discussing the Titusville branch — the smallest of Pitt’s five campuses, with only 300 students enrolled. According to the resolution, enrollment at the branch has fallen 45 percent since 2010 due to “demographic forces impacting higher education institutions across the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.”
“The rural areas have been hit particularly hard,” Provost Patricia Beeson said, adding that there is a declining number of high school students in northwest Pennsylvania. “There’s been a shift in the population of traditional college attendees.”
The Board has been examining the challenges facing Pitt-Titusville since the fall of 2016. University officials released an analysis in June 2017 citing several problems surrounding the branch campus, including a deficit of $1.7 million in 2016, spotty enrollment and competition. Officials announced five final options in June.
Option one called for keeping the campus open. Option two was to close it. Options three through five opted to revise the branch’s programs and operations to address regional needs. The three possible avenues for doing so under consideration included Pitt continuing to own and operate all revised programs, Pitt selling the campus to a third party while maintaining some University programs there or Pitt allowing partners to offer programs at the campus while retaining ownership. The University eventually narrowed it down to two options — either closure or retaining ownership of the campus while partnering with other institutions to maintain it. SGB passed a resolution Feb. 13 supporting the latter option, which the University ultimately chose.
According to a press release from the University, the Education and Training Hub will provide a range of education and workforce training programs run by different partners, with “active input”’ from regional employers.
Beeson placed the cost of the transformation between $10-15 million and said the University is in the process of submitting grant proposals to the state. According to Beeson, Pitt would match whatever funding the state provides.
Gallagher stressed during his Chancellor’s report that the passing of the resolution was not “a victory lap” but a decision to acknowledge the effort to remake the Titusville campus as one worth maintaining.
“Right now this just means we have to roll up our sleeves and get to work,” he said. ‘We’re looking forward to that. We think this is an exciting opportunity and the potential is quite high.”
Gallagher said the University expects the endeavor will be successful and the hub could serve as a model for other places in the state and in the country.
Pitt will begin working with the state, along with community, business and public sector groups, to establish three founding partners for the hub — the University, a training center and a community college. Potential partners who have sent in proposals so far include the Manchester Bidwell Corporation, Butler County Community College and the Northern Pennsylvania Regional College, the release said.
Meanwhile, Pitt-Titusville will continue offering programs to college students and will also develop programs for nontraditional students, according to the release. Pitt students in Titusville will have the option to complete programs at the Hub or transfer to another Pitt campus to continue their education.
Beeson said current Pitt-Titusville students will be encouraged to move to the Pitt-Bradford campus or offered scholarships to attend one of the other branch campuses. She said the campus will still be recruiting for next year and students will have time to finish any two-year degrees being pursued. The University expects to begin limiting the number of liberal arts programs in two years, while introducing programs from hub partners and maintaining programs in health sciences and nursing.
Beeson said the hub will provide students with more opportunities to zero in on a program that is suited to their educational or career ambitions.
“I think that the advantage to the student is that they can get a kind of holistic counseling, and then they can also at the same time and at the same place take a class from Manchester Bidwell and from a community college and from Pitt,” she said.