New Juniata College president sees long tenure

As Jim Troha made the drive into Huntingdon County, he was struck by something he didn’t often see while growing up in Ohio.

And that’s central Pennsylvania’s beauty.

Combining that with its history, its high academic reputation and the opportunity to become a college president, Juniata appealed to Troha and his family, and the school chose him as its 12th president.

He began his duties over the summer and has acclimated to Juniata and Huntingdon with plans for an extended tenure.

Troha (pronounced Troe-ha) knows he’ll be busy.

Enrollment stability and fundraising, he believes, will be high priorities as families struggle to afford secondary education (public or private), and he has visions of continuing to build Juniata’s relationship with Huntingdon and central Pennsylvania.

He recently took time to chat with the Mirror’s Managing Editor Neil Rudel as the subject of this Monday Spotlight.

Mirror: What made Juniata attractive to you?

Troha: I think first and foremost, the quality of the institution, the diversity that exists here, the number of international students, the diversity of programs, and obviously the beauty of Huntingdon County and the campus drew me to it. This is a really strong place, high quality academically, and what sells you is the strong sense of community. The people that work here and attend school here are tremendous.

It’s a very strong, tight-knit family atmosphere, and that was very appealing. And Juniata has a real sense of who they are and who they serve. It knows where its soul is in higher education, and that’s kind of rare. We feel blessed to be able to serve and are humbled to be asked to serve in this capacity. We’re looking forward to being part of the community.

Mirror: Did you have a particular connection?

Troha: I did not. The only connection that made it a possibility was its geography to family. My wife grew up in Pittsburgh so getting closer to her family and still having a lot of my family in the Cleveland area (was appealing).

Mirror: What are your early impressions of Huntingdon and this region?

Troha: It’s beautiful – a spectacular setting here. We moved from northwest Ohio, which is very, very flat, and you come here and are just stunned by the rolling hills. We’re still trying to get to know the local town, and we’re looking forward to getting ingrained. But from what I’ve seen, you’ve got a great mixture of what’s happening at Juniata and the strength of Huntingdon. You have a nice juxtaposition of new people coming to town and folks who have been here for a long time. I like the balance.

Mirror: What are your top priorities as you get acclimated?

Troha: We want to be good community partners. We’re one of the largest employers here in Huntingdon, and we take that role seriously – of how we fit into the town. We’d like to reach out in ways that we hope are appreciated to what we offer, not just to our students and faculty, but in how we can reach into the community and be an even larger part in ways that would only strengthen us both. We’d like to find ways to add more restaurants and shopping opportunities here that will broaden our model.

Mirror: You have quite a fundraising background. How vital is that to your role and to the future of higher education?

Troha: My role, No. 1, is to take care of who we serve and how we serve. No. 2 would have to be identifying new resources. That can come in multiple ways, but most times you’re not going to grow by 50 students and raising tuition. Private school presidents have to be out sharing our passion for education and the school. It’s not always asking for money; it’s about inspiring people to give. Fundraising is absolutely critical. One of the things we have to pay attention to is college affordability. The more we can raise in scholarship and endowed chairs, the more we don’t have to put those costs on the backs of our students. Seeking out alumni to support scholarships lessens the burden on our students. The success of our fundraising is going to be absolutely critical in the future.

Mirror: How stable is Juniata’s enrollment?

Troha: Because we are stable with our enrollment, we have not struggled like a lot of smaller schools. Our overall enrollment continues to grow. Our retention is stronger, and that’s a great sign that more of our students are staying. We know to continue to sustain the business that is education, we’re going to have to continue to grow. Nothing gets less expensive – whether it’s utilities or health care costs. But we want to grow in strategic ways. We want to grow in areas we can afford to grow in, and we want to remain being selective with students who are a good fit for Juniata. Our question is how big. We’re at 1,600 now, and we have a freshman class of 415. Do we get to 1,700 or try to level off and look at other ways to make this model work? One of the great things about Juniata is our size, and we don’t want to lose that.

Mirror: Has your successor, Thomas Kepple, been a resource for you?

Troha: Yes, he was tremendous in permitting two weeks of overlap, and that’s pretty rare in higher education. Having two weeks where I could sit down with him has been very helpful. He’s been very gracious with all the knowledge he’s acquired. We’ve had lunch so I can bounce things off him. It’s helped that he’s remained local, but he’s also allowed me to meet people on my own. And I appreciate that.

Mirror: Your bio shows a young family. Do you see this as a long-term move for you and for your children to grow up here?

Troha: You bet. Thinking and hearing about why I may have been selected, one of the attributes I bring is my runway may be longer. And maybe my youth plays into that. If I could serve as long as Tom (15 years), or even a bit longer, that would get me up to retirement age. For us as a family, we’re looking at this as a long-term place. And Juniata has done that well. The average tenure of a private college president is about seven years, but we have every intention of wanting to stick around for a long time.

Mirror: Are you a fan of Ohio sports teams?

Troha: I am bringing Ohio influence into this land of Eagles and Steelers spirit. I’m a huge fan of the Browns, Indians and Cleveland Cavaliers. Of course, I have to have the NFL Ticket, so I can catch the Browns. I’m all about Cleveland sports. Why, I’m not sure, because it’s been a long time (since the city has won a championship).

Mirror: How do you spend your spare time?

Troha: With my kids and all their activities. That’s high on my list. When I have time, my passion is on the golf course. That’s where I like to get away and have some release time.