1. In view of sharply declining state appropriations, what steps should Penn State be taking to secure its financial future?
Shrinking state appropriations is not a problem unique to Penn State. State funding has not kept pace with the growth in college enrollments. According to a study recently completed by my company, The College Board, state appropriations per full-time equivalent student declined by 23% in inflation-adjusted dollars over the last decade while enrollment in public colleges and universities increased by 33%.
Institutions that rely on state funding, wholly or partly, are subjected to the widely varying economic conditions of the state. Under these conditions longer term planning is nearly impossible. When hard times lead to a decrease in funding a university is left to cut critical expenditures at the last possible moment with very little planning. During good times, if a university tries to stash appropriations for a rainy day, they are penalized in future years when the state feels the school does not need the funds. As such, universities are forced to rely on tuition for an increasing share of their revenues.
Given that Penn State is not a truly “public” institution (it is “state-related”…essentially trading BOT seats for funding) it needs to assess all viable options to deal with the funding shortfall. It is critical that the University finds alternative funding sources that meet the objectives of the colleges and departments. Whether through sponsorships or finding ways to get students to graduate faster (to more quickly generate tax revenues for the state to reinvest in Higher Education) no option should be considered off the table.
2. The rising cost of tuition nationally is making college less affordable for many students. Outline the steps you believe Penn State should be taking to address the issue.
Having the highest in-state tuition for a state university in the entire country is not a distinction of which Penn State should be proud. Competition for students has forced universities to expand the services offered to students and increase the amount of merit aid distributed, with disastrous effects on the bottom line. Despite this, the University is poised to be a thought leader in making college affordable for all students. To solve this growing problem Penn State needs collaboration and innovation followed by execution.
Through collaboration with other flagship state and land grant universities, Penn State may be able to trim program offerings without negatively impacting the breadth of courses available. Penn State can stop trying to be everything to everyone and leverage established programs at other universities while redirecting attention to core competencies. Collaboration should not end at program offerings. Penn State should seek to learn from other schools, share efficacy data and open a dialogue to ramp down admission competition and ramp up value to students.
Innovation through the use of labor-saving technology must improve the learning experience while also cutting costs. Some will argue that the increasing cost of technology has, in part, contributed to the rising tuition. However, having the infrastructure in place to support new modes of learning should be viewed as a worthwhile investment. This does not mean simply putting courses on line but seeking to help students learn more quickly and easily. Penn State must strive to be a “first mover”.
3. What form should Penn State’s land-grant mission take in the 21st century?
The original intent of the Morrill Land-Grant Acts was to create institutions that integrated the practical and applied skills of agriculture, science and technology with classical liberal arts and sciences to create a higher level of knowledge and increase American economic prosperity. As we have moved into the 21st Century, one which has brought globally-impacting challenges like the search for alternative energy sources, climate changes, exhaustion of precious resources, poverty, hunger, and crippling disease, the need for a higher level of knowledge for the betterment of society has not changed. Penn State is well positioned to expand the land grant ideals beyond American borders and advance the global discussion.
Searching for solutions to these large-scale problems will require continued innovation and advancement in the fields of agriculture, science and engineering. The land grant philosophy of sharing the findings and benefits of the University’s unbiased research with the public and engaging with partners to create and implement what they learn will be critical to the global landscape.
Again we are back to the overarching theme of collaboration and innovation. Penn State needs to continue to be a trusted research leader, make investments to ensure the best staff, infrastructure and resources remain available, work with other college and universities to validate findings and devise recommended advancements, and engage industry leaders to act in meaningful ways.