Robert Morris U. Faculty Union Forgoes Much of a Raise to Free Up Scholarship Funds

May 18, 2009

The union representing the faculty at Robert Morris University has agreed to give up more than half the raise due its members next year to allow the private Pennsylvania college to spend more on student financial aid.

Under an agreement approved by the university’s American Federation of Teachers local on May 7 and the trustees of Robert Morris last week, faculty members will receive raises of about 1.3 percent in the coming academic year, substantially less than the 2.75-percent increases that had been promised them under their collective-bargaining agreement. The move is expected to free up $180,000 for scholarships at a time when the university is worried about losing students for financial reasons.

“We wanted to make a contribution to the campus community. It is gratifying for us to do something to help students,” Seth Finn, a professor of communications who serves as president of the AFT local, said in a statement issued today by the university.

University officials had agreed in March to freeze salaries of staff members and top administrators to make $570,000 available for scholarships. The additional funds pitched in by faculty members bring new money for student financial aid to $750,000, and increase the university’s total to roughly $16-million. About 90 percent of the Robert Morris’s roughly 5,000 students receive aid in some form.

The university’s undergraduate enrollment dropped by nearly 6 percent last fall after several incoming freshmen and returning students backed out of plans to go there. The university’s president, Gregory G. Dell’Omo, told The Chronicle that many potential students had “basically said, ‘Well, we can’t afford to come back right now.’”

Last year’s enrollment loss followed Robert Morris’s decision to raise tuition and fees to $19,740, a 10-percent increase, the largest jump at any private college in Pennsylvania. Even before that increase, the university relied on tuition and fees to provide 86 percent of its primary revenue, nearly triple the nationwide average of 29 percent among four-year private colleges. —Peter Schmidt