Clarion Taking Off for ‘True North,’ Taking Back Their Own Backyard

| April 18, 2019

CLARION, Pa. (EYT) – Clarion University is headed “True North,” as it tackles five areas for improvement and it takes steps to take back its backyard in recruiting students.

The True North Initiative is a planning process that identified five priorities that are obtainable for Clarion over the next three years.

“True North is our map, what we need to do. It is our core value,” said President Dale-Elizabeth Pehrsson in an interview with

“Where do we need to go to deliver the educational promise to the region? True North because it is our Polaris and a nautical term, but it’s also a flight plan, and since we’re Eagles it makes sense for us.

“The reason we didn’t do the long-range plan is I’ve seen a lot of long-range strategic plans get done and put on the shelf, and no one refers to them again. As a community, we wanted to look at what we need to do right now. What are the immediate things that we need to do right now?  They broke into the five working groups, and even more people were added to the committees, and they came up with five different initiatives.”

The True North provided a final document of priorities of things that need to be done as soon as possible to put Clarion on the right track for the future. The number one recommendation centers on student success and echoes throughout the report, bringing focus on academic programs, affordability of student housing, increasing student engagement, and develop a realistic brand.

For a copy of the complete True North Program click here.

Priority #1: Student success at Clarion University needs to be better defined, structured, and coordinated to help deliver a high-quality educational experience to all of our students, both within and outside of the classroom.

“One thing was dominant underneath all of the different initiatives and underpinned all of them was student success,” said Dr. Dale. “We look at student success in so many different ways, so we want to define that and what it means to us, because for each unit it means something different in the Student Affairs, it means something different in Athletics, it means something different in the classroom, but it certainly influences the entire student experience.

“We will define what it means for Clarion, and we will be moving some things in action for student success, affordability, academic programming and making sure they’re relevant preparing people for successful lives. Everything is changing so rapidly that we want to make sure that our programs and our pedagogy match the workforce and needs of the region. Ultimately, we would like to do things that help our students stay in the region. We don’t want them to go and have jobs elsewhere; we want them to say so we don’t have a brain drain where they get educated and then go to other places. We would like them to stay in Pennsylvania, and that’s a major priority that I think is critical.”

Priority #2: Clarion University must encourage and actively support academic program development in promising new areas and the adaptation/modification of existing academic programs, while supporting disciplines that promote a robust general education program, to maintain and enhance our mission as a comprehensive regional University. Additionally, existing resources should be leveraged whenever possible to enhance current programs and make new programs even stronger.

“One recommendation in this section states that new programs should focus on being able to leverage existing programs with an eye toward dual majors and dual degrees. The focus should also be on developing programs that appeal to non-traditional learners with some college experience, but not a degree. In the spirit of the Step Up Strategic Enrollment Plan strategy of “take back our backyard,” there should be a rededication to structures and programs that historically have served the purpose of “lifting all boats” and been directly tied to the mission of the University. A particular example of this would be a recommitment to the School of Education as a separate entity with opportunities to grow.

“True North will be officially launched — there will be some things we can start doing this summer — but clearly, something like academic programming will be starting in the fall when the faculty is back.  Everything we do at this university we try to do it through shared governance so that people have an opportunity to give input into the decision-making process.    

“Faculty governance runs through the Faculty Senate and also the bargaining unit, and there are other initiatives and committees. What True North did was it brought together individuals from all different divisions on campus and also involved students and some community constituents, as well.”

Priority #3: Identify affordability as a University priority and define associated goals to review and redesign Clarion housing and student fee rates, scholarship models, and associated budget decisions.

“The task force made some recommendation, and their first recommendation was we freeze student housing costs for next year. We have already done that, and this is a good start for students so that they know that when they come in next year, they know it’s not going to go up suddenly.

“Because we don’t own the housing, it is a complex issue because housing is owned by the Clarion University Foundation. The Foundation, at the response of the last administration, built new housing on Main Street for our students. We all realize that students may not be coming here because it is a little bit more expensive and for the last six months, we’ve been working on the housing affordability.

“I can’t go into a lot more detail because right now, but we’re looking at it and talking to legal counsel and financial people to figure out how can that be done. No matter what, if that doesn’t work we’re going to make sure something works because it’s our responsibility to provide some kind of affordable housing for our traditional students so that they can be on campus and not be so stressed about finances.”

“We know that there’s a gap right now about $2,000.00 a semester and about $4,000.00 a year when it is difficult for students and families to make ends meet and do not enroll. That’s the gap we want to eliminate by reducing housing prices.”

“Enrollment is looking like it’s flat for next year, the same as it was last fall. We had a little bit of a dip down, so if we keep it flat, that’s great. We have been doing all kinds of things. Recruiting has gone through the roof in terms of getting out. We’re doing the Step Up Program which is Take Back the Backyard, and the backyard range is probably seven or eight counties for about 150 miles. We also do some out-of-state recording as well, but our predominant focus is on our region, and we want to get those students those young people for first-time college goers.

Priority #4: In support of student success, Clarion University will establish mechanisms to increase engagement of students, enhance citizenship, and promote a culture where students’ basic needs and higher-level needs are met.

“I also have the background of working as a professional in hospitals, so I can see lots of different aspects of how a university should run. At the core, we are an academic enterprise, and that is THE most important thing we do and to help students be successful. We have to be successful with our finances, we have to be successful with our planning, with our outreach, and all of those things so that in the end, we have a responsibility to deliver education to this region. That’s our primary responsibility, and we will do everything we can to make that so.

Priority #5: Clarion University must clarify and communicate, both internally and externally, a realistic brand and deliver on that promise to students. It is essential that there is accountability for what we market and the consistency of the experience students receive.

“My big emphasis in terms of recruitment and enrollment is going to be on retention, and we are putting things in place. Part of our student success initiative is making sure that students are getting the scholarly guidance that they need, the remediation that they need in terms of advisement when they need a little bit of help. It’s not just the students who are struggling students, but also those who are very good students but they may need to learn to take different ways of studying into consideration. That’s a big thing that we’re going to be focusing on next year.

“We’re a little higher in terms of retention from year to year than other PASSHE schools are because we have a lot of low-income students and our acceptance rate is at 92 percent. When we accept students, we’re going to get students who have all different levels of preparation for college readiness, and we have to have resources available to help them.

“I get the sense that faculty wants students prepared, and then we may have a responsibility to help them get ready to be prepared because they come from all different school districts, and they have all different levels of readiness.

“Our faculty are so committed to our students; it’s just amazing to me. When every student comes here, all the students have to do is try — and the faculty are like right there with them. They have grit. They may come from different backgrounds where they don’t always know how to study or maybe there has been someone who’s been helping them at home, but when they get here, there’s plenty of help.

“We have so many wonderful things we offer on campus. The developmental programming for traditional students is very comprehensive, very well thought out a yet some of those still struggle. One of the things we also know we have to do is not just assume that they’ll come and get the help they need to reach out and knock on their door and say you know we got the service.

“This is a good place. Clarion is a really good university with dedicated students, dedicated faculty and staff, some who have been at Clarion for most of their professional lives. They really do care.

“I think that one of my strengths that is a good fit for me here at Clarion is that I come from a working-class family.

“Going through college, I worked all through college, so it took me a long time to get my bachelor’s degree. The work values, the work ethic, the blue-collar — that’s what I have in my background, and that seems to be a good fit here at least. Many of our students are First Generation, at least one third like I am.

“I also think that because I have been a faculty member, I have the lens of how important it is to teach, and how to connect students and make them reach for the future.”

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