George T. Henning Jr., Ballot Position No. 55

George T. Henning Jr. ’63 Lib
Interim CEO, President and Chief Financial Officer, Aventine Renewable Energy Holdings, Inc.
State College, Pa.

Read Henning’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?

There are many steps that Penn State and the Board can take to address this issue.  Penn State must continue to fight to limit any future decreases in state appropriations.  Initiatives like the Alumni Grass Roots program and Penn State’s legislative connections must be enhanced and leveraged.  I have been active in the grass roots campaigns and visited legislators on behalf of the University. I also envision new campaigns to educate Pennsylvania voters on the benefits higher education brings to our state and to promote contact with members of the legislature by families of Penn State students and graduates.

The burden of the severe cuts in state funding has largely rested on students and families through tuition increases and on our faculty and staff through only one small wage increase in three years.  Nearly 70% of the Penn State education budget is devoted to faculty, staff and administration wages and benefits.  The development of additional efficient delivery methods for education and reduction of programs offered must be implemented.  Reductions in the remaining 30% of the education budget can offer savings.  With my executive experience from industry, I recommend that Penn State, through a joint commission of the Board of trustees, faculty, staff, students, experts and the administration, explore potential cost savings that do not jeopardize the position and reputation of our internationally recognized university. Although I advocate for cost cutting measures, I do that with the understanding that the quality of a Penn State education cannot be jeopardized.

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.

Fortunately, Penn State has developed significant programs in the past that somewhat ameliorate the affordability issue.  The ability to attend a commonwealth campus close to home is a prime example.  Penn State also offers significant scholarship aid to low income students and is currently raising additional significant scholarship funds to provide economic assistance to students. The efforts to increase scholarship funding must continue.  As President of the Renaissance Scholarship Fund, I am well aware of the need for additional scholarship aid.

My experience on the Board from 2004 through 2010 included visiting 10 of our Commonwealth Campuses and serving on a strategic planning committee for student learning.   Steps for the University to address the issue of affordability include cost containment that I discussed in the first question.  The development of more online teaching, additional courses at commonwealth campuses and permitting students to move freely between the campuses are all ideas to be explored.  I believe we need innovative programs that permit more flexibility in completing degree programs so students can leave the University for a year or two and then return to the classroom.  A review of programs at other Universities may also provide additional opportunities.

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

The idea of the land-grant institution was to educate the state’s residents for undergraduate training as well as continuing education for all residents, especially in agriculture.  The mission of the land-grant institution was partially funded by the state and county government.  Penn State can only continue the land-grant mission with state and county support.  The state and to some degree our county governments are now unable to fund the costs of land-grant programs at historic levels.  What had been a state contribution equal to 80% of the tuition of an in-state student 50 years ago is now less than 20%. While students shoulder the decrease in tuition assistance, in the future we cannot burden the students with also funding the land-grant mission.  In a state where the largest single industry is agriculture, it is dismaying that the state is not better prepared to support the agricultural endeavors of the land-grant mission. I will foster communication between the state and the University to outline a land-grant mission that the state and the University can afford.  Penn State must provide superior programs delivered in the most economical way for the land-grant mission funding that is provided.  The University should assist the state and county governments in setting priorities for the funding available.  I do not see using precious funds of the University education budget to fund land-grant missions other than the undergraduate education of our students.

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