With enrollment at capacity, new WCU president faces unusual challenge

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Among the 14 school in the state system, West Chester is an anomaly, and its new president, Chris Fiorentino, is confronting an unusual problem.

“There isn’t really anywhere else for us to grow in term of the campus,” said Fiorentino, who, after 33 years at West Chester will be inaugurated as its 15th president on Friday. “We don’t have any more room for residence halls. We’re putting the brakes on our ability to continue to grow at this point.”

Fiorentino, 63, has witnessed a remarkable expansion since he began working at the university in 1983, as an economics instructor working toward a doctorate at Temple University.

Enrollment at the time was 9,500, and now exceeds 17,000, a record level, and Fiorentino said the plan is to keep the number right about there. The student body increased by 20 percent in the last five years.

At the same time, other universities in the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education have experienced significant enrollment declines, which Fiorentino attributes to economic conditions and an “out migration” in other parts of the state.

Fiorentino will be replacing Greg R. Weisenstein, for whom the university’s veteran’s center is named and who retired after eight years at the post. Fiorentino, who had been vice president of external operations, has been serving as interim president since January.

“Chris is very passionate about West Chester University, it’s in his blood,” said Tom Fillippo, chair of the West Chester University Council of Trustees. “Overwhelmingly, his heart shone through.”

Fiorentino, who will earn $296,900 annually,  will be the third president in over 25 years. “One thing about West Chester, there’s very little turnover in leadership, and I think that has a lot to do with our success,” Fillippo said. “People want to go to West Chester.”

The school was founded in 1871 as West Chester Academy; became West Chester State Teachers College in 1927, and, eventually, West Chester University, the very year that Fiorentino arrived. In recent years it has expanded its offerings, including pre-med and nursing programs.

Fiorentino said he is considering adding an engineering department.

Fiorentino describes the student body as primarily working class. Typically, he said, a student is the first of a family to attend college and is committed to the university’s “community service ethic.” Last year over 800,000 service hours were logged by students.

The school says it has 30 students who are homeless, and it has a “resource pantry” to help provide food to needy students.

Fiorentino and students led a pre-inaugural food drive to raise awareness about food needs for poor people in the county, collecting over 2,000 pounds of canned goods.  

Along with his on-the-job challenges, Fiorentino said he is looking forward to the summer and spending time in Ocean City with his wife, Sue, three children, and the grandchildren.


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