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Fifteen Layoffs Announced in Penn State Outreach

on June 21, 2011 12:23 PM

Fifteen full-time employees of Penn State Outreach will be laid off this summer as the university deals with an anticipated state-funding cut and internal cost reductions, Outreach spokesman David Aneckstein confirmed Tuesday.

He said the affected workers were notified Monday and will leave the university within several weeks. Each of them is eligible for severance compensation equal to one week's pay for each year of service at Penn State, Aneckstein said.

Penn State also will offer them benefits and job counseling to help them through the change, he said. They also may apply for open positions elsewhere in the university system.

"This was a painful decision for Outreach," Aneckstein said. "Of course, our hearts go out to the employees who are losing their jobs. These are friends; these are co-workers whom we've worked with for a very long time. It's a very difficult thing to do."

The affected workers are employed in five areas of Outreach: Penn State Public Broadcasting, which houses the WPSU radio and television operations; Penn State Business Solutions, which includes the Small Business Development Center and some management-development programs; Outreach Marketing and Communications; the Office of Economic and Workforce Development; and the Outreach information-technology department.

Aneckstein said the affected jobs span the organizational ladder, including managerial and non-managerial positions. The total number of people employed in Outreach was not immediately available Tuesday morning.

Earlier, Outreach announced in May that eight positions will be lost as it closes a general-information call center. The need for the call center, which has fielded general inquiries about the Penn State World Campus, Continuing Education and affiliated operations, has declined as more people have migrated to the Internet, according to the university.

The 15 additional Outreach cuts announced Monday are a separate reduction, made necessary by two key elements, Aneckstein said.

He said the first is the annual state budget, which is still being negotiated in Harrisburg. Penn State could see its state support fall by as much as 15 percent to 50 percent in the coming fiscal year -- a hit that's expected to reach across a variety of university operations.

As a result of that anticipated decline, Aneckstein said, the central university administration is planning to trim its support for Outreach by $2 million, to $6.8 million next year. (Outreach's overall annual income -- much of it from World Campus and Continuing Education operations -- is more than $100 million.)

The other factor prompting the 15 new job cuts, Aneckstein said, is the university's Core Council process. That ongoing effort, led by the central Penn State administration, is identifying at least $10 million in permanent cost savings throughout the university system.

The Core Council's overarching mission is, in large part, to help make Penn State more efficient and to allow the university to allocate resources for strategic growth areas, administrators have said.

Aneckstein described the impending changes in Outreach as part of an "organizational restructuring ... to better position ourselves for our clients in the future." Those clients include adult learners, users of public-service media, and others who use the community scholarship activities offered through Outreach, he said.

Asked whether additional Outreach layoffs may materialize in the foreseeable future, Aneckstein said "that possibility can't be ruled out" in this unstable economy.

"With what's going on around the world, I don't think there's many businesses that could rule out layoffs," he said.

More layoffs elsewhere in the Penn State system remain a possibility, though "more will be known when we know what happens with the (state) appropriation," university spokeswoman Annemarie Mountz said.

State lawmakers are expected to reach an agreement on the Pennsylvania budget within a couple weeks. The Penn State trustees are due to set the university's 2011-2012 budget -- and tuition rates -- in mid-July.

"Whatever the final appropriation number is, whatever sort of cuts need to be made -- colleges and units (within Penn State) have discretion over exactly how to meet their budget," Mountz said. "If an area has less money, they can decide, based on their needs, whether they need to cut something else or if they need to lay off people.

"There's not an overarching plan of 'There will be this many layoffs,'" she went on. "The cuts are spread out equitably among all units of the university."

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