Casey A. Coyle, Ballot Position No. 80

Casey A. Coyle ’06 Com
Litigation Associate, Rhoads & Sinon LLP
Harrisburg, Pa.

Read Coyle’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?

I refuse to accept the premise that tuition increases at Penn State are simply a result of cuts to state funding for higher education. Between 2000-01 and 2010-11, the university received nearly $3.5 billion in state appropriations. However, over that same period, in-state tuition and mandatory fees more than doubled — from $6,852 to $15,250 — growth that is far over inflation. It is therefore misleading to suggest that the recent reductions in state funding are the root cause of Penn State’s tuition crisis.

That said, the university can more firmly secure its financial future by increasing the size of the  endowment and limiting its capital expenditures. Concerning the former, future cuts in state appropriations for higher education are probable, given the current economic realities faced by the state government. Nonetheless, Penn State can reduce its dependency on state appropriations by making a more concerted effort to grow the endowment, as other public institutions have done, such as the University of Michigan. Regarding the latter, I believe that Penn State has a spending problem, not a revenue problem, and one of the key contributors to the university’s financial situation is its focus on endless construction and acquisition projects. At a time when every American is being asked to do more with less, Penn State cannot continue to spend beyond its means.  While this may require the university to freeze or eliminate certain capital improvement projects, it is likely what is needed to halt the rises in tuition.

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.

While the cost of a college education has increased nationally, Penn State’s tuition is rising at a far greater rate. In fact, the average annual tuition and fees for in-state undergraduate students at the University Park campus have increased nearly 17% since the 2006-07 school year — while the national average of tuition has increased by over 10%.

The rapid tuition increases have occurred as more and more of the Penn State’s revenue has been derived from tuition. For example, in 2004-05, tuition revenue totaled $892 million, making up 27.3% of the school’s overall revenue. For the 2010-11 school year, however, that figure was greater than $1.4 billion — or 31% of all university revenue. Remarkably, the tuition increases have also occurred as Penn State experiences record enrollment — 96,519 students were enrolled during the fall 2011 semester.

These figures seem to indicate that Penn State’s tuition crisis is of its own making, and not part of a national trend. As an alumni trustee, I will work with university officials to implement various cost-saving measures to ensure that tuition rates do not continue to climb at exponential rates. In particular, I will: reduce the number of administrators at Penn State; eliminate capital improvement projects that do not further the university’s educational mission; audit university contracts to ensure that Penn State is receiving fair market value for services and equipment it purchases; and, if necessary, ask employees to make a greater contribution to their employment benefits.

3. What form should Penn State’s land-grant mission take in the 21st century?

As an institution founded upon the principle of providing higher education at a cost within the reach of Americans of average financial means, Penn State has to adapt to the modern realities of decreased state funding and increased operating costs. The university must embrace various cost-saving measures and reduce the breadth of bureaucracy that has been created over the past decade. If these steps are not taken immediately, it will soon become cost-prohibitive for many families to send their children to Penn State, thus depriving an untold number of talented, qualified young adults of a world-class education. This is simply unacceptable, and as an alumni trustee, I will work with university officials to ensure that Penn State continues its long, rich history as a land-grant institution.

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