The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

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March 11, 2012

Jem Spectar | UPJ chief: We need community’s support

— This year marks a milestone in the history of Pitt and Pitt-Johnstown.

Celebrations are under way commemorating Pitt’s 225th anniversary of building better lives, and Pitt-Johnstown’s 85th anniversary of getting students ready for the real world. 

Throughout our history, we have undoubtedly been a leading contributor to the region’s educational, social, cultural and economic development. Yet, in the current budgetary environment, it is worth restating the vital role Pitt-Johnstown plays in our community and reminding our friends to help us tell our story in Harrisburg. 

With an annual economic impact exceeding $65 million, Pitt-Johnstown employs about 500 people and has sustained its momentum by hiring faculty and staff even in these challenging times. 

Moreover, recent and necessary campus improvements, exceeding $30 million, including the Nursing and Health Sciences Building (groundbreaking next month), provide jobs for members of our community.

Regionally focused, we are especially proud that more than 50 percent of our students are choosing the high-quality option in their back yard, hailing from Cambria, Bedford, Blair, Somerset and Westmoreland counties.

To facilitate access for these students and their families, particularly in these difficult times, we have increased financial support from various sources – allocating more than $35 million last year.

In addition, we are increasingly a destination of choice for students from other states, as well as for nearly 75 international students from around the world (an 1,800 percent increase since 2007).

The university continues to augment its high-quality programs with new offerings that respond to student and community needs in areas such as nursing, biochemistry, applied computer science, computer engineering technology, energy and resources, green chemistry, geographic information systems, and management information systems.

The attentiveness to community needs continues with consideration being given to additional programs such as special education, justice administration and computer information security.

Mindful of the current fiscal environment, we have been prudent in our resource utilization, generating efficiencies and cost savings. We also continue to supplement our state fund through strong and successful fundraising, as well as a range of auxiliary operations.

Our campus shares its expertise and resources with the Johnstown community. Our talented faculty teachers-scholars, often working with students, engage in consequential community-enriching research.

Our dedicated staff members are engaged on- and off-campus in myriad ways that enrich our region.

Our students perform more than 10,000 hours of community service. Our 19,500 alumni are transforming lives in the real world every day. Our Pasquerilla Performing Arts Center brings thousands to campus for world-class performances. 

Word has gotten around about the region’s erstwhile “best kept secret.” We have received positive recognition for student retention and graduation rates that exceed national peer averages.

We consistently rate above our peers in key areas including services to help students decide on a career and in overall service to students.

In 2011, Pitt-Johnstown rose to the first tier in U.S. News and World Report’s ranking, climbing seven points over the previous year.

We are recognized by the Princeton Review as a “Best Northeastern College” and the Corporation for National and Community Service as a “President’s Higher Education Community Service Honor Roll” honoree.

Our outreach to military veterans, through our MountainCat Veterans Program serving more than 50 veterans, has earned us a “Military Friendly School” designation by GI Jobs.

And, Pennsylvania Business Central has recognized Pitt-Johnstown by naming it a “Top 100 Organization” out of the more than 65,000 in a 20-county region.

Quite clearly, the commonwealth’s past support for education has yielded dividends for our community. In fact, educational attainment beyond high school is a vital asset for those seeking employment in this challenging economy.

Regional campuses such as Pitt-Johnstown help fulfill the aspirations of many young people seeking the skills necessary to thrive in our competitive job market. 

Appropriate funding for the university will ensure that Pitt-Johnstown continues to prepare students for successful careers in the region, thereby strengthening and building our communities. 

Thanks to the support of our faculty, staff, students, community and our more than 19,500 alumni, as well as our dedicated advisory board members, we believe we will continue to make progress in this challenging environment.

Your advocacy, in support of the University of Pittsburgh, had a positive impact in the last budget season. Your continued engagement can and will make a similar difference this time.

Therefore, I urge you to write letters to elected officials, call your legislators, or make visits to legislative district offices.

I am hopeful that when you tell them what Pitt-Johnstown has meant to you, your family, your friends and community, they will get it. 

Jem Spectar is president of Pitt-Johnstown.

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