Barbara L. Doran, Ballot Position No. 52
Read Doran’s official bio and position statement here (PDF download).
Answers to Questions
1. In view of sharply declining state appropriations, what steps should Penn State be taking to secure its financial future?
State contributions to Penn State’s budget are well below the national average of 19% at just 7%, with next year projected at 4.5%. With ten state representatives on the Board, including the governor, a renewed push to persuade state authorities to re-prioritize their spending decisions should be initiated both privately and publicly. Penn State makes a $17 billion economic impact on the state, a return of 25 to 1 for every state dollar invested.
A newly awakened alumni base, eager to make changes to the existing board governance, is an important group whose support and action should be enlisted to support this lobbying effort. They have shown that when the stakes are high, they are there for their university. The stakes couldn’t be higher: receiving a college education is part of the American Dream.
Cutting costs is an obvious critical component, with all current operating budgets scrutinized for savings and efficiency possibilities, and planned major projects reviewed and shelved if not absolutely necessary. Raising tuition is a last resort, given the already onerous debt levels students struggle with at $1 trillion nationwide. The mix, however, could be changed, admitting more out-of-state students (currently at 20%) who pay nearly double the tuition. High-margin online education can be prioritized.
The endowment’s performance, an important source of operating income at many schools, should be reviewed and evaluated, as it is below relevant ten-year and twenty-year benchmarks. Top performing endowments have outperformed Penn State by close to 50%.
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.
Tuition has been steadily climbing for over a decade at a rate of over 8%, faster than increases in the cost-of-living and medical expenses, with most projections to continue at 6%+. Most analyses show that tuition increases have been driven by rising spending on administrative and student support services; an escalating amenities arms race as colleges compete to attract the best and the brightest of a rising number of applications by building bigger and better facilities; and the need to make up significant reductions in government subsidies. The latter have been steadily reduced since 1978, when federal, state and local governments contributed 50% of revenues: by 2009, they contributed just 32%. The national average for tuition as a percentage of revenue is 22%: at Penn State, it is 78%.
As outlined in the previous answer, many steps can be considered to halt or slow tuition hikes: campaigning for more state aid; comprehensive cost-cutting; increasing high-margin online enrollment; endowment performance review; changing the mix of the student body to higher-paying, out-of state students. The latter would engender a serious reevaluation of Penn State’s widely presumed mission of educating primarily Pennsylvania residents.
At the heart of the budding debate, too, about whether to remain public or to go private, is whether going private can allow us to be more flexible and efficient in resource allocation, closing or cutting various offshoots they may be starving the main corpus of needed resources, yet contribute little to the university mission.
3. What form should Penn State’s land-grant mission take in the 21st century?
The land-grant university system was established in 1862 through the visionary Morrill act to insure that a university education was not just for the wealthy and the elite, but would be widely available to all; to offer instruction in the applied sciences, engineering and the “practical arts;” and to support economic development within states and the country as a whole.
For 150 years, Penn State has embraced and preserved these core values by providing access to education for the many (e.g., some 80% of all minority students attend research universities), and by sharing research and knowledge to help solve some of society’s most pressing problems with practical solutions. Yet the university has also evolved to stay current with the complex needs of today’s students and modern, world-class research universities. Public service and outreach on a world-wide level remain fundamental to Penn State’s stated mission of “Teaching, Research, Service,” and is widely regarded as one of the world’s best research universities, e.g., we have the #1 educational online site (“World Campus”), sharing our resources worldwide; and we should keep it that way. Government seems ignorant of the broader social and economic contributions of the land-grant institution, and continues to slash funding to an unsustainable degree. How do we continue to provide education, research and public service when many land-grant functions provided by the university contribute mightily to the state and its denizens yet have no offsetting income source? We must innovate in what we offer and how.