Published: September 13, 2023

Chatham’s $6 million deficit yields campus reorganization

8% of staffers have lost their jobs and 4 departments have been consolidated


Weighed down by a $6 million deficit, Chatham University is undergoing a campus-wide reorganization to mitigate the effects of financial hardship.

About 8% of staff positions have been eliminated — putting 20 staffers out of a job — and the university leadership team has been restructured, according to school officials.

The private university has also consolidated four departments — International Affairs, the Office of Academic & Accessibility Resources, Academic Advising and the Office of Career Development and Internships — into a new Academic Success department, and the library has been integrated into the Information Technology department.

These changes, introduced over the summer, were brought on by new President Rhonda Phillips, who took the helm of the Shadyside school in July. Ms. Phillips, who is Chatham’s 20th president, succeeded former President David Finegold, whose post-Chatham plans included writing books about transformations in higher education.

When she began her tenure, Ms. Phillips was tasked with reducing an $8 to $12 million deficit, according to university officials.

Two months later, that deficit is down to $6 million and projected to decrease to $3 or $4 million by next year.

The university’s board hopes that the reorganization process will grow undergraduate enrollment, strengthen the school’s graduate program options, and “better align the expenses and revenue by $8 to $12 million.” The process has a two-year goal.

“Through the reorganization, Dr. Phillips is focused on aligning the budget, updating university systems and ensuring Chatham is able to adapt more quickly to the rapidly changing higher education landscape from a management and leadership perspective,” Chatham spokesman Bill Campbell said in a statement.

Chatham reported a $1.2 million deficit just three years ago. During the 2022 fiscal year, the university brought in about $53 million in revenue and had $83 million in liabilities, according to a financial audit.

School leaders have attributed budgetary woes to several factors, including rising costs, an aging financial system and shifting enrollment trends.

Though Chatham’s undergraduate enrollment has doubled from 600 to 1,200 students in the past decade — the former women’s college began enrolling men in 2015 — graduate enrollment is down. Between 2012 and 2021, the share of full-time graduate students on campus fell nearly 20%, from 856 students to 692, according to U.S. Department of Education data.

Chatham, like other schools, also bears the burden of an increasingly challenging higher education landscape. Inflationary troubles, a drop in the college-aged population and dwindling trust have impacted schools across the Northeast. Pennsylvania’s state system schools currently carry $1.8 billion in debt, while Penn State and West Virginia University face deficits of $63 million and $45 million, respectively.

Chatham currently employs 344 faculty members and 243 staffers. The university offers 260 bachelor’s degrees, 290 master’s degrees and 177 doctorate degrees.

Tuition at the Shadyside school is $42,250 for full-time, undergraduate students.