Thirty-six professors — less than 4 percent of those eligible — applied by Wednesday’s deadline for a phased retirement under a new program offered by Pennsylvania’s 14 state universities.
The Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education didn’t say how many applicants they were hoping to attract when the program was approved.
The number represents about half of what Kenneth M. Mash, president of the statewide faculty union, had anticipated, though he said his estimate had been a rough guess. He said he thought the system would get about 200 over the three years for which the program is in effect. In a routine year, a couple of hundred faculty members retire; under the phaseout plan, he had anticipated an additional 60 or 70 a year.
“I would have expected that there would have been a bit more than that,” Mash said of the first year’s numbers. “In retrospect, it came late. Not only that, I expect that some people want to see how it goes first before they take part in it. I think I’ll be interested next year.”
The plan comes as another 2 percent enrollment decline is projected for the fall and some universities are struggling to close projected budget gaps. The 14 universities dipped below 100,000 students last school year for the first time since 2001.
The system and the faculty union agreed on the program earlier this spring. Under it, faculty can retire in phases over three years. Their workload and pay would be gradually reduced, while they maintain full benefits.
Nearly one-fifth of the union’s 5,150 full-time faculty members were eligible. Those who qualify generally must be at least 60 and have worked at least 15 years in the system.
It’s not clear how much the system will save under the program; it has not released savings projections. Mash noted that the reduction in work schedules for those faculty will result in at least some savings.
The largest number of applications — seven — came from Kutztown University, while three schools — Cheyney, Mansfield, and Slippery Rock — received no applicants.
The breakdown at other campuses: East Stroudsburg, one; Edinboro, two; Bloomsburg, two; California, three; Indiana, three; Lock Haven, three; Millersville, three; Clarion, four; Shippensburg, four; and West Chester, four.
The phased retirements would begin in the fall. Faculty members typically teach eight classes per year.
The system is likely to face another cash crunch for 2019-20. But just how much cutting will be necessary won’t be known until the state budget is enacted. Administrators asked for a $38 million funding increase, and Gov. Tom Wolf proposed $7 million.