What drove Pittsburgh Technical Faculty to shut?

When Pittsburgh Technical Faculty introduced its impending closure on Monday, leaders cited the same old causes: declining enrollment, inflation and altering views of upper schooling.

However directors additionally leveled a vaguely sinister accusation.

“These exterior pressures, along with orchestrated assaults towards the establishment, have made it tough for PTC to extend income era and enrollment numbers to stay operational,” officers wrote within the closure announcement.

Nothing extra was stated within the press launch about alleged “orchestrated assaults.” However the remarks come within the wake of a conflict between President Alicia Harvey-Smith and staff who’ve raised questions on doable monetary mismanagement and misconduct. They allege, amongst different issues, that the president spent $32,000 of school cash for a advertising agency to jot down and edit her guide.

Final fall the Board of Trustees resigned en masse after the school and employees voted no confidence within the president in July. An investigation by an out of doors legislation agency in September raised considerations about monetary selections the president made, a few of which personally benefited her.

Harvey-Smith has denied the quite a few claims of economic misconduct. In an e mail to Inside Increased Ed, she as a substitute accused a bunch of disgruntled former and present staff of “assault[ing] the college and in the end its college students.” A report from her lawyer—which the Board of Trustees accepted—absolved her of any wrongdoing.

However many within the PTC orbit consider the president and board in the end sank the small faculty by means of their very own actions and inaction.

Enterprise Challenges

Based in 1946 as Pittsburgh Technical Institute, the establishment was an employee-owned, for-profit faculty earlier than it made the leap to nonprofit standing in 2016 and altered its identify to Pittsburgh Technical Faculty.

Enrollment on the non-public, two-year establishment has been trending downward for years. A decade in the past, in fall 2014, PTC enrolled 2,045 college students, in response to the Division of Schooling’s Built-in Postsecondary Schooling Knowledge System. Enrollment fell to 1,744 in fall 2019—Harvey-Smith’s first yr—and has since reportedly dropped by greater than 1,000 extra college students. Sources, talking on situation of anonymity, advised Inside Increased Ed latest enrollment stood at slightly below 700 college students.

PTC additionally misplaced $8 million in fiscal yr 2023, publicly out there monetary paperwork present.

Whereas loads of small schools have confronted comparable challenges lately, some PTC insiders, together with its former president, consider mismanagement performed a job in driving the establishment out of enterprise. In March, the faculty obtained a warning from its accreditor, the Center States Fee on Increased Schooling, which raised considerations about its failure to fulfill requirements for ethics and integrity. MSCHE additionally famous the faculty’s shaky monetary standing earlier this yr, and simply final week warned of the opportunity of its “imminent closure.”

Dueling Experiences

After July’s no-confidence vote, the faculty performed an out of doors investigation into alleged monetary misconduct by Harvey-Smith. The outcomes of that investigation, offered to the board in September, discovered the president acted unilaterally in awarding a full-ride scholarship to a highschool pupil and contracted with a vendor who promised a donation to PTC. It additionally confirmed that she spent $32,000 in faculty cash to pay a advertising agency to jot down and edit parts of her guide, Increased Schooling on the Brink: Reimagining Strategic Enrollment Administration in Schools and Universities.

The board reportedly sought Harvey-Smith’s removing. However in the end, 5 of the seven trustees left as a substitute. And a brand new board, put in in October, instantly voiced full help for the president. Harvey-Smith additionally commissioned her personal report by means of her lawyer. And whereas it didn’t instantly dispute the findings of the investigation, it argued her actions had been inside her authority as president. Within the report, the lawyer additionally accused “resentful staff” of staging a “palace coup.”

The brand new board likewise rallied to Harvey-Smith’s protection.

“Throughout the investigation, a non-binding vote of no confidence was held by some college and employees members. The Board of Trustees has vital reservations in regards to the timing and circumstances of the vote and, accordingly, has determined that no motion is required. It would proceed to interact the Faculty neighborhood to offer the perfect expertise for our college students, our directors, our college, and our employees,” the board wrote in an October assertion.

The board assertion solid Harvey-Smith as an “agent for change” charged with main the faculty because it “continues its metamorphosis from a for-profit technical institute saddled by crushing debt to a not-for-profit faculty striving for monetary stability.” In affirming its help for the embattled president, the board declared that “change isn’t simple, however typically needed.”

Who Bears Accountability?

Requested for additional clarification in regards to the claims of orchestrated assaults within the closure announcement, Harvey-Smith solid a large web, accusing unnamed actors of undermining the faculty and in the end killing it off.

“Since final summer time, teams of former Pittsburgh Technical Institute staff (a few of whom work at Rosedale Technical Faculty in Pittsburgh) and present staff labored collectively to assault the college and in the end its college students. Their efforts to hurt the scholars had been profitable, leading to quite a few adverse native and better schooling commerce media tales towards the Faculty, damaging its status, whereas resulted in decreased enrollment and stood in the best way of the Faculty’s skill to kind partnerships or fundraise … Finally leading to closure,” Harvey-Smith wrote to Inside Increased Ed in an emailed assertion despatched by a public relations agency.

In the identical e mail, Harvey-Smith accused her predecessor of bogging the faculty down in debt. She additionally alleged that PTC’s Board of Trustees had been doxxed and harassed, although didn’t specify by whom. Requested to offer proof for her extra explosive claims, she didn’t provide any.

An e mail promised to Inside Increased Ed exhibiting harassment of board members by no means arrived.

Former PTC President Greg DeFeo solid doubts on Harvey-Smith’s closure narrative. DeFeo, who was president from 2007 to 2018, wrote by e mail that when he left the faculty it had “practically 2,000 college students, a rock strong steadiness sheet, constant profitability” and “an impeccable status with the Division of Schooling and the Center States Fee on Increased Schooling.” DeFeo argued that PTC “was positioned for long-term success” when he left.

He blamed the closure squarely on the enrollment collapse, which he stated was attributable to the present administration and price the faculty $40 million in misplaced revenues. DeFeo additionally accused the Board of Trustees of failing to behave when staff and PTC’s accreditor raised considerations.

“Sadly, even when confronted with a unanimous vote of no confidence by college, a [negative financial outlook] from the auditors, an unbiased investigation, and probation from Center States over failure to fulfill requirements for ethics, management, governance and funds, the vast majority of the PTC Board of Trustees members resigned, fairly than taking needed actions,” DeFeo wrote.

A former PTC worker who left just lately and spoke on the situation of anonymity, shared the same perspective, blaming each the board and the president.

The board, he argued, “did not train their fiduciary tasks, and particularly, they failed on their oversight tasks for the president and her actions or lack thereof.” The supply stated that whereas severe monetary points existed since not less than June 2022, these considerations went unheeded, with neither the board nor the president taking corrective motion.

He believes inaction coupled with the “gross incompetence of the president” led to the closure.

Native media reported that the Pennsylvania Lawyer Basic’s workplace has additionally opened an investigation into complaints about monetary mismanagement on the faculty. Although the Lawyer Basic’s workplace declined to substantiate that an investigation is underway, it stated by e mail it’s “reviewing the circumstances of the upcoming closure and any switch or lack of belongings.”

Requested if she bears any duty for the closure, Harvey-Smith stated by means of a spokesperson: “No. I’m happy with all that has been achieved below the circumstances. My efforts extended the lifetime of a troubled establishment.”

Now, after virtually 80 years in enterprise, PTC is about to shut in August. It joins College of the Arts in Philadelphia because the second faculty in Pennsylvania to announce a closure this month.

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