Point Park, private institutions face challenges during higher education uncertainty

Written By Jake Berlin

For Point Park University to succeed, Dr. Paul Hennigan, President, said the school needs to “differentiate itself as a place to get a distinctive, innovative, experiential education.” Those familiar buzzwords, plastered across a brick wall above the campus center of Village Park, are the university’s strategy for peeling away students from competing institutions. For that to happen, Hennigan said that Point Park has to be “much more friendly” with nontraditional learning opportunities, such as online courses and the creation of a career readiness center.

To succeed in the near and distant future, Hennigan is considering and implementing a wide range of options, including partnering with a community college to offer a college degree that can be accomplished in less than four years—saving time and money for what has become a highly mobile student population.

This massive educational shift will transform Point Park from an on-ground, four-year institution to a school that is currently “exploring a three-year path to graduation,” Hennigan said. Throughout his tenure as President, he said that he has seen the university change rapidly as a result of internal challenges. Now the university must move quickly to address external challenges as well, especially since the onset of COVID-19 has changed the education landscape forever.

On a cloudy February day, Hennigan is seated in a conference room on the top floor of the university’s Academic Hall, and the window offers a view of a campus which has seen dramatic transformation under Hennigan’s leadership. But the past decade of change is rapidly approaching its toughest test, as the school prepares its strategy for a complex array of higher-ed issues, including the coronavirus, which caused the cancelation of on-ground classes indefinitely, beginning on March 12. But the coronavirus isn’t the only looming problem that Hennigan believes is plaguing the market and creating an uncertain future.

“I never hear any discussions in any higher-ed forums about the market segmentation and the impact that the current market forces are going to have on the good buy/good value sector. I never hear it discussed, anywhere,” he said in the February interview, as well as in many previous meetings on campus with various stakeholders.

This seemingly pedagogical jargon is an idea Hennigan said he has been studying and others have been ignoring. Time will quickly tell if he is right. If he’s wrong, it could be one of the worst ideological decisions for Point Park’s future in a competitive landscape that can’t afford a misstep.

The landscape is characterized by schools eating each other alive in an era where there are too many classes and not enough students to fill them. Point Park, however, feels confident in its footing. After years of shelling out money for strategic planning and enrollment marketing, the university is ready to test the theory that prospective students are looking for the quickest path to a job, as opposed to a longer college experience.

Point Park is what Hennigan calls a “good buy/good value” institution. It’s one of four categories in a pyramid of segmentation that he uses to define positioning in the academic marketplace. Also within that category in the Pittsburgh region would be Chatham, Carlow, Robert Morris, La Roche and Duquesne universities.

“I do agree with him, putting [those] in the same category–smaller, private, four-year and graduate programs,” Dr. Candace Introcaso, President of La Roche University, said. “It’s a very competitive segment.”

In the Pittsburgh area, below Point Park would be the Community College of Allegheny County (CCAC). Directly above it are “name brand” schools like the University of Pittsburgh, with the highest section of the pyramid being “medallion schools,” such as Carnegie Mellon University.

“We can certainly agree with Dr. Hennigan’s perspective,” Dr. Suzanne Mellon, President of Carlow University, said. “While we agree with Dr. Hennigan that the cost of a Carlow education is a good value, as we are less expensive than a CMU or even the University of Pittsburgh, we also believe that the ‘value’ is in what we deliver.”

“I would certainly agree with President Hennigan,” Dr. Chris Howard, President of Robert Morris University, said. “Each of the institutions in our region has characteristics and services that are of immense value to our communities. In many ways I would describe RMU as a ‘goldie locks’ school, as it presents characteristics of’ ‘good buy/good value’ along with characteristics of ‘name brand’ schools, with strong Division 1 athletic programs.” RMU describes itself as “big enough to matter, yet small enough to care.”

“Duquesne would probably argue that they’re a name brand school, but they’re not,” Hennigan said with a laugh. Hennigan then went on to discuss the potential issues with the good buy/good value sector.

“We are seeing evidence of the good buy/good value sector diminishing in terms of providers,” Hennigan said. “We always read about schools closing. Basically any school with less than 5,000 students could easily be in a financially stressed situation right now.”

The reason for this distress is the fault of the good value schools, he said.

“This sector is cannibalizing itself. Since the overall market of higher education is contracting, the only way to grow is to take from another…we’re talking to students all the time, who say ‘my top three choices are Robert Morris, Chatham and Point Park.’ And the ones who decide to come to Point Park, we took from the others,” Hennigan said.

Introcaso stressed the importance of communication during the recruitment process as a way for good buy/good value schools to draw in students.

“One thing that institutions can do is devote resources to ongoing personal attention,” Introcaso said. “Maintaining contact with the students we’re trying to recruit, particularly as we get to the application process.”

One of Point Park’s assessments which indicates success is the “matriculation overlay.”

“When we look at the students who come to Point Park versus the students who didn’t, the two schools taking most of our students are Pitt and Penn State,” Hennigan said.

Those universities come from the name brand sector, so it’s not a surprise or an issue to see students moving upward, Hennigan argues.

Former Point Park University student Alexa Lake is a sophomore molecular biology major who transferred to the University of Pittsburgh at the end of the Fall 2019 semester. She believes Hennigan’s assessment of Point Park as a good buy/good value institution is accurate in the context of the model that he has constructed.

“However, I think his vision is inaccurate and misinformed,” Lake said. “The real crux of the issue is that he interprets the writing on the wall differently than students do, than parents of students do, and faculty of Point Park do. It seems that everyone outside of administration wants something different and sees a different future than Paul Hennigan sees.”

Lake’s inclination to explore a different future resulted in an entirely different choice of school altogether.

“When I learned about his plan—that he wanted to expand offerings to certificate programs and things like it—what that implied to me is that the university is in trouble financially and it’s in trouble with its reputation,” Lake said. “I don’t feel comfortable, personally, having a degree from an institution that I feel might not exist in a decade, or might be a glorified trade school in a decade.”

Lake said when she heard about Hennigan’s vision, she “stayed up until 4 a.m. to apply to Pitt.”

Hennigan believes that this level of concern is misguided.

“If we were losing a ton of kids to another school in our sector, that would really bother me. But we’re not,” he said.

In other words, Point Park is a relatively successful school in an unsuccessful sector. It’s aiming to be the most appealing option in a segment where options are increasingly limited. Hennigan is wagering that it is better to remain a good value school and brace for cannibalization, rather than attempt to move up and compete with the schools taking Point Park’s students. And other local university presidents also see the merit in remaining as such.

“Smaller, private schools are generally able to provide very focused attention to students whether by academic advisors, or student affairs staff, or resident advisors,” Mellon said.

“Point Park has been lucky the last couple of years, we haven’t really seen a dip in our enrollment,” Trudy Williams, Vice President of Enrollment at Point Park, said. “Duquesne took a big hit in their undergraduate enrollment last year. If you can be distinctive… that will set us apart from our competitors. We don’t know what’s going to happen this year with the pandemic. All bets are off. We really have to be creative.”

“We have to market what makes us distinctive,” Introcaso added. “We’re [La Roche University] a suburban, Catholic institution. That might be an attraction.”

Some, however, do not see Point Park’s efforts as sufficient.

“Is Point Park proactive? Absolutely not,” Lake said. “I think it’s the most reactive school in this half of Pennsylvania.”

Lake cited recent events regarding the coronavirus pandemic, with students left wondering if they would be living on campus as nearly every other Pittsburgh school announced what their plan was, how they were going to close the university and what services were going to remain open.

“Point Park seemed to be the last place to actually share that information with students,” Lake said. “Rather than being honest and transparent, they were more focused on the PR nightmare.” She argued that this “doesn’t have to be the case.”

“One of the advantages of being a private institution is that you have the freedom to try something different and do things quickly without worrying about many overhead requirements,” Lake said. “Why, then, is Point Park waiting and seeing? There’s no reason why Point Park should wait and see what Pitt is doing and what CMU is doing.”

Hennigan compared Point Park’s assets to those of “name brand” or “medallion” schools.

“Those [name brand] schools have a few general characteristics that we do not,” Hennigan said. (Among them are the qualities of being research-based, and in some cases, public institutions with D-1 athletics.) “And also, those schools tend to be more selective. Point Park has always had this appeal to first generation students, providing opportunity. To change your selectivity ratio is a financially painful thing to do, and it’s a long term risk.”

Point Park’s selectivity ratio is comparable to admissions of other schools in the good value sector. However, the elite Conservatory of Performing Arts (COPA) selectivity at Point Park is more comparable to medallion schools. Right now, Point Park’s long term risk is its current identity crisis. Administrators are constantly assessing the type of product they want to sell as students signal a change in the kind of education they want to buy. The theory is that more students are coming out of high school with different perceptions of college than their parents or grandparents had.

Hennigan chalks up this change in appetite to a generational divide, and that shift is a greater problem in the Conservatory. Steven Breese, Point Park’s Artistic Director and Dean of COPA, said “online education may continue to thrive and grow. But that assumes that all types of classes can be delivered virtually with equivalent outcomes and success.”

“Many performance classes, such as acting and stage combat, can be delivered virtually,” Breese said. “But these, and many other artistic classes, are based on ‘experiential, hands-on learning.’ These classes, at their best, require interaction and immediate feedback. So conservatory classes across the country will continue to be modified and become more hybrid in style, but the heart of the instruction will remain face-to-face for the foreseeable future.”

Hennigan believes that virtual instruction will greatly increase in demand in the upcoming future.

“As the ‘true digitals’ arrive at school—and these are the kids who were born with a gadget in their hand—I think there’s going to be less demand for the on-ground, residential education,” Hennigan said. “How higher-ed figures that out, I’m not quite sure.”

The school did try to figure that out; from 2005 to 2007, Point Park contracted with The Hill Group management consulting firm to conduct “strategic planning, project coordination, focus group facilitation and data analysis.” The Hill Group’s current President and CEO, Dr. Chris Brussalis, also sits on the Point Park University Board of Trustees, where he chairs the Managed Resources Committee.

“My firm has a lot of university clients across the country,” Brussalis said. “One of the biggest challenges right now is a major demographic shift. Less people are going to colleges and it’s really going to be exacerbated over the next three or so years. The demand is decreasing but the supply is being maintained.”

“We’ve had, for eight years now, a decline in the number of students graduating from high school,” Dave Duncan, Chair of the Finance Committee on Point Park’s Board of Trustees, said. “When 2026 hits, it’s going to be an even bigger drop in enrollment, due to the birth drop during the 2008-2009 economic downswing.”

John Ashaolu, Point Park University’s Athletic Director, said that he has “true digitals” at home.

“I have a one year old son and a two year old daughter. They’re using the iPads to learn ABCs. It’s inevitable,” Ashaolu said.

Dr. Matt Pascal is a former West Virginia University professor who is now Associate Professor of Mathematics and President of the Faculty Assembly of Point Park University. Coming from a “name brand” institution, he sees the value and the risk in having various learning opportunities on campus.

“I’m happy for us to compartmentalize and have these badges or certificates or ‘three-year programs,’ as long as the traditional four-year programs aren’t diluted,” Pascal said. “I think the faculty has enough power to prevent anything from happening to those four-year programs.”

Pascal has seen the market segmentation models “many times… I’m very familiar with Dr. Hennigan’s pyramid,” he said.

Brussalis added that the COVID-19 pandemic will have ripple effects across higher education which will amplify the issues already facing colleges and universities.

“On average, 1.2 schools were going out of business, closing their doors every month,” he said. “I think that’s definitely going to accelerate after this pandemic. The ones that keep doing the same thing [rather than adapting] are going to fail, I guarantee it. Many more affiliations are going to be occurring—mergers and acquisitions between schools.”

Chris Choncek, Associate Vice President of Institutional Research and Planning at Point Park, has been working at the school in various capacities for almost 28 years. He said a merger or acquisition would not exactly be a new debate.

“Back in the ‘90s there were actually discussions to merge Point Park with Duquesne University,” Choncek said. “They started these discussions and it got pretty intense. But what really broke off the talks between these two institutions was mission-related. If you look at the mission of Point Park versus the mission of Duquesne, it’s vastly different.”

“We provide an experiential learning education,” Joe Greco, President of Point Park’s Board of Trustees, said. “No other college or university in Western Pennsylvania is committed to the mission.”

Commitment to “the mission,” is a characteristic held by many institutions.

“Ask most people and they will tell you that Carlow is distinguished by its mission,” Mellon said.

Schools that are more similar to Point Park, however, may find its offerings more appealing.

“Students who are at [good buy/good value] schools that fail are going to need somewhere to go,” Pascal said. “We need to be prepared to do everything we can to get those students.”

Lake sees one of Point Park’s strengths, and also its greatest opportunity to improve weaknesses, as its sense of community.

“Everyone knows everybody,” Lake said. “It’s an interesting dynamic. You have people who are experts in computer science and dance and marketing who all function very well together. But the faculty and students feel extremely disconnected from the way the university is managed. It seems very incongruent with Point Park’s communal social aspects that its leadership is so authoritarian.”

Bridget Mancosh, Point Park’s Vice President of Finance, Lisa Stefanko, Vice President of Human Resources, and John Pearson, Provost, did not respond to requests for comment for this story.

“There’s a lot of different perspective there,” Duncan said. “I think the diversity of everybody working together is probably our greatest strength.”

Duncan is a graduate of Point Park who studied business administration.

“The biggest change is financial stability,” Duncan said. “When I started in 1975, they were a year away from having students in the streets with buckets asking for donations to keep the doors open.”

Brussalis emphasized one of the buzzwords tattooed across the brick wall of the school’s Boulevard Apartments: “I think Point Park is in a better position than a lot of other schools in our region. We don’t have the endowment of Carnegie Mellon University or the University of Pittsburgh. But I think one of the things we do very well is Point Park has always been innovative.”

“I think that is going to enable Point Park to be one of the survivors and one of the stronger universities going forward,” Brussalis said. “There’s no doubt in my mind. Even going into this, the last six years, there were two universities in the region which saw significant growth: Carnegie Mellon and Point Park University.”

“Private institutions are really driven by enrollment numbers,” Choncek said. “If enrollment is down, we don’t have as much tuition revenue to spend on student support services. Being innovative is crucial to helping us stay alive, especially with this pandemic. Our revenue shouldn’t be completely tied to the number of students we have on campus.”

Other local institutions are also looking elsewhere to find revenue.

“Our university is great at finding alternative revenue streams,” Dr. Howard of RMU said. “Some examples of this are our many corporate partnerships or concerts and shows held in the UPMC Events Center.”

He added that COVID-19 presents new challenges to higher education in addition to the declining number of high school graduates.

“Universities, especially tuition-dependent ones, will need to find new ways to meet enrollment goals,” Howard said. “This includes becoming more creative with [marketing] campaigns and engaging non-traditional students while also improving our alternative revenue streams.”

Other university presidents agree.

“There simply aren’t as many students graduating from high school to fill the classrooms to the extent that there once was,” Mellon of Carlow said. “Universities are responding to this by building ways to draw people back to higher education later in life, either to get the college degree they never finished, earn a certificate, or a graduate degree.”

“A student should not choose Point Park if the area of study they are interested in is not available,” Greco said. “If they don’t want to go to school at a smaller university or in an urban environment, or they want to commute and don’t live in the Pittsburgh area, then obviously they should not come here. Other than these reasons, they should study at Point Park to gain fantastic learning and life experience.”

Pascal is optimistic about Point Park’s strengths as an institution.

“I think we’ve done a really good job of finding our strengths and focusing on them,” Pascal said. “I think we have strengths that other schools do not. If you just do a general scan of people in the area and you mention our school, they’ll tell you something about Point Park that they know—something that makes it different than Duquesne, Robert Morris, Carlow, Chatham and La Roche and all of the other schools. I personally have no idea what La Roche does well. But before I ended up at Point Park I could have told you what we do well.”

Other local universities also boast unique strengths.

“[La Roche] is known in the area for interior design programs,” Introcaso said. “We just renovated our science center and that has been one of our programs that has consistently been growing over the last decade.”

“In academic programs, we are distinctly known for our health science programs, social sciences, education, natural sciences, art and graduate programs,” Mellon said.

A peculiar dichotomy is presented as these higher education experts maintain an entirely different opinion than the students they recruit and serve. Point Park’s faculty, staff and administrators continue to project success even in interviews, while current and former students remain more critical.

“We do our best to project success,” Choncek said. “But at the end of the day, there’s no guarantee. My concern is that, if things fall apart, where does that leave us? I worry if some ideas may land flat.”

Gia Zazzera is a former business major who began in the Fall of 2017 and withdrew a year later. She has not returned to Point Park since, but is instead working two jobs and looking to open a small business. Leaving Point Park early for a career is a move that denies the school’s career readiness center its mission accomplishment.

“If I would have stayed, I would have wasted time,” Zazzera said.

“What we’re seeing is more and more students going out and buying the cheapest alternative and assembling a degree. That’s where I think it’s heading,” Hennigan said. He added that the school’s continuous growth remains uncertain.

Point Park will have to balance that directional change with its academic integrity.

“We’re really trying to come up with some low-hanging fruit,” Choncek said. “What are the new cutting-edge programs that would give us the most bang for the buck? And that’s been really fun. That’s actually how we started online education at Point Park.”

Some students and professors worry a large dependence on online courses will be too different than a classroom setting, lacking the essential learning environment that justifies college tuition.

“I think that’s an old-school mentality that’s not based on data,” Hennigan said.

Recent data, however, suggests otherwise. Just four months ago, before the onslaught of COVID-19, the EDUCAUSE Center for Analysis and Research published two studies which showed overwhelming preference for in-person classes as opposed to online instruction. The surveys, facilitated by a community of information technology leaders, pulled data from 40,000 students and 9,500 faculty members at 119 United States institutions. The results were staggering, with 70-73% of responses in favor of face-to-face learning environments. A majority of students were willing to compromise with a “blended” learning environment, combining supplementary online work with a classroom setting. Certain demographics favored more online education than others.

“I have a very hard time with online classes,” Pascal said. “I have designed them, and despite my very best efforts, I do not consider them to be the same as what I do in class… I think it’s an extreme challenge to try to replicate the face-to-face learning that you get.”

Dr. Tim Hudson is a full-time professor at Point Park and formerly the Dean of the School of Communication.

“Ten years ago I got here as an advocate of online education,” Hudson said. “It’s more enjoyable to teach students face-to-face, but there’s an important place for online education and I’ve long been an advocate for it.”

Although the cultural shift was easy for Hudson, it wasn’t the same for others at Point Park, he said.

“I remember very clearly sitting in meetings with several of the top administrators at Point Park and several of the top Faculty Assembly officers. And I was the only person in the room who was speaking in favor of online education at all.”

“There was a time not long ago when people said an online degree isn’t a real degree,” Trudy Williams said. “Of course it’s a real degree. But you do need to make sure you don’t cheapen it and lessen its value in the marketplace.”

Those meetings, around 2010 by Hudson’s estimate, show that change at Point Park is “slow and gradual,” he said. “Point Park is very engaged online now. We have to be careful to do it well and not every class is appropriate for online education. Not every major can be converted to online.”

This concern is being mirrored by comparable institutions.

“Even before [COVID-19], there were some perceptions about a college degree, and whether or not that was worth what it costs,” Introcaso said.

Hudson believes Point Park usually has a “pretty good balance” of online classes.

“I wouldn’t think we need to move more programs online,” he said. “I can understand why some people think that’s what we need to do because that kind of looks like it has saved us in terms of enrollment… but there are smarter things we can do that would attract students.”

Adding his endorsement of a hybrid learning environment, Greco said “we, as an academic community, must become digitally smart and creative in supporting our students. Most importantly, we must be the human side of learning. We will take the digital lesson to another level that pure digital can’t do.”

Madie Mitchell is a freshman double-major at Point Park who said she is “strongly in favor of in-person classes as opposed to online classes.”

“You can get better assistance when you’re able to do it in person,” she said. “Especially with office hours—having to work online isn’t something I would see as ideal.”

“There are correct ways to educate someone besides and including a four-year, on-ground education,” Lake said. “But the options [Hennigan] is focusing on really don’t do us any favors. Point Park’s strongest asset is its recognition as a boutique school that excels greatly in certain fields, when you think of the COPA and Business schools.”

For Lake, this distinction was personal.

“I chose to come to Point Park because of one of these custom offerings, the funeral services program,” Lake said. “Those small programs that have niche support are things that Point Park is very good at housing. It fosters diversity… But we’re going to get to a situation where we’re offering programs below our brand. It seems like we’re going to have more majors than students at Point Park.”

“I was taking so many classes I really didn’t need to be taking,” Zazzera added.

Lake also highlighted the discrepancies between COPA tuition and pandemic-related online classes. Conservatory students are still required to pay full rates this past semester, despite now being denied access to teaching tools and services such as dance studios and cinema suites. These courses require more than knowledge which can be obtained from a book.

“Everything that makes Point Park special can not be replaced with online education,” Lake said. “This especially targets COPA, the group that pays the highest tuition at Point Park. They are now being stunted by their inability to perform or have access to resources that they pay significantly more than others for.”

Choncek is a member of the university’s Strategic Enrollment and Revenue Planning Committee, where he focuses on “a possible market out there for students who maybe don’t want a four-year degree… but maybe just a credential, certificate or associate’s degree. We’re really trying to think outside the box and consider, even if a program is not popular right now, what’s on the horizon? What will become popular?”

On the athletic horizon, John Ashaolu is currently overseeing the implementation of a campus Esports team and said online learning “is the learning of the future, even if it’s hybrid learning. Six years ago I worked at a high school and every student had a Chromebook. No one likes changes but you have to adapt for the benefit of the students.”

According to Hennigan, Point Park is “right in the middle of the pack” in terms of online offerings when compared to other schools in the good buy/good value segment. Recent arrangements, however, outline a focus that goes below the university’s own segment.

Partner4Work, formerly the Three Rivers Workforce Investment Board, is a “development organization that connects funding, expertise and opportunities to develop a thriving workforce in the Pittsburgh region,” according to its website. The organization partners with businesses “to source and train the talent needed to grow the region’s economy.”

In July of 2019, Partner4Work entered into a $164,200 joint agreement with Point Park University and CCAC, executive committee minutes show. The contract outlines CCAC as a sub-recipient of Point Park. “The program will support students through career readiness,” the executive committee reports. Seeking “experiential learning,” it is designed to support a cooperative education (co-op) which combines classroom learning with workplace experience. At Partner4Work’s discretion, the contract may be renewed for three additional years.

This six-figure investment in career readiness underscores Point Park’s belief that college is no longer about dormitories, frat parties or football games. It also highlights an alliance between Point Park University and a college which occupies a lower tier in Hennigan’s pyramid of market segmentation. Competing with higher-tiered schools, such as Pitt and Penn State, would not be “possible or feasible,” according to The Hill Group’s Chris Brussalis. Although those institutions take most of the admissions from potential Point Park students, “we don’t have the resources” to aggressively combat the issue, Brussalis said.

However, with programs such as the CCAC agreement, he sees no problem digging in and making Point Park’s place in the segment permanent—targeting students like Zazzera, who left Point Park to take classes at CCAC the following summer.

“There’s a place for all different types of schools,” Brussalis said. “It’s not that one value proposition is better than another. People have different things that they want to get out of their experience.” Point Park is working to merge that experience with other undergraduates across the county.

“I always thought Point Park should have more of a presence in high schools and local community colleges,” Ashaolu said. “I worked at a community college before I came [to Point Park] and I don’t remember a time where I saw a table for Point Park University. Every year I was at the Community College of Beaver County I always saw Geneva and Chatham on a consistent basis. So I think that’s one thing we should do, just talk about the university.”

Ashaolu described career readiness as the “hot topic right now.”

“The primary change in the 21st century is that most students today attend college to pursue a specific career,” COPA’s Breese said. “Prior to that, college had a more open-minded focus.”

“We are working directly with CCAC to find students currently enrolled there who are most likely to succeed in a co-op program,” Hennigan said. “And they’re getting those folks on the path—while still at CCAC—to transfer into Point Park.”

“More students are coming in with college credits,” Williams said. “Students are always interested in trying to get out as quick as they can. Anything we can do on the academic side to get creative in offering degrees would be very appealing.”

Workforce readiness directly contradicts Point Park’s affair with online courses, Lake believes.

“Do you want practical, hands-on learning, or do you want online education? Because you can’t teach trade certification on the internet,” Lake said. “You can’t have it both ways, Dr. Hennigan.”

The Partner4Work arrangement is designed to transition students from a 2-year degree program to a 4-year degree program, even as senior leadership at Point Park believes that 4-year degrees may become obsolete in the future. The joint bid from Point Park and CCAC was the only proposal received by the organization, as no other Pittsburgh schools applied for the program. And while Point Park offers the co-op education, Hennigan acknowledged that there is no reciprocity with CCAC. However, this outreach may benefit Point Park as it tries to distinguish itself from other similar institutions.

Hudson agrees with Hennigan’s decisions but doesn’t see it as a binary choice. He argued that both elements of Point Park’s message and reputation can be embraced, adding that “there are still families all around the world who favor the idea of a traditional, four-year degree. Especially if we can make it more affordable. The potential in-residence education ought to be part of our target audience, too.”

With his vast experience in higher-ed, Hudson said “I would approach the challenge on both fronts, doing things that are more vocational in nature… but, we are in higher education. We have doctoral programs we would like people to enroll in. We have professors whose background is in trying to be scholars and who are really good at that. And so scholarship is part of a university education. We need to remind people that we are a place for intensive, full-time study.”

“Point Park is not a research-based university like Pitt, Penn State, and CMU. This would take us away from our core mission of teaching students with committed teachers,” Greco said. “When a university focuses on research, I believe the student becomes secondary to research grants.”

Dr. Howard sees the need for both intensive study and career readiness at Robert Morris.

“Academically, we are a very strong professionally-focused institution,” Howard said. “Many of our majors lead to careers in the well-paying professions, such as nursing, engineering and business. A year after they receive their diplomas, 95% of RMU graduates are working or enrolled in grad school.”

The nontraditional opportunities used to thrive downtown, according to Point Park alumni.

“We were really big on adult, evening, and Saturday education. We were the place to go in the ‘80s and ‘90s,” Duncan said. “That segment has basically gone away.”

“We were just as altruistic but not as career-focused,” Greco said of his time at Point Park.

“I think articulation agreements are good,” Pascal said. “A student can come out of CCAC and be fully prepared for a school like Point Park… I’ve taught at community colleges in the past and my experience [at Point Park] has been pretty similar.”

From the student perspective though, Point Park remains behind the curve.

“There are too many colleges like Point Park, like Chatham and like Carlow to be financially viable,” Lake said. “Eventually there’s so much competition for students and tuition is getting so high, it’s inevitable, especially during the pandemic, that many of these institutions will close. We’ve seen it with the Art Institute, and I think it’s a matter of time. Point Park needs to excel, they can’t just meet the standards. If they are like any other school, if they keep following suit, what’s going to happen is some of those are going to get cut. And you don’t want to be the last rhino running in Jumanji.”

Jake Berlin is the former President of Point Park University’s Student Government Association.