Joseph C. Atkinson, Ballot Position No. 24

Joseph C. Atkinson ’92 Bus
Partner, PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP
Chalfont, Pa.

Read Atkinson’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?

Our threefold mission — of education, research and service to the Commonwealth — does not change, regardless of the level of commitment provided by the State of Pennsylvania.  As a result, we must continue to innovate and explore new ways to do more with less while managing the burden on our students and their families.  Penn State must address its cost structure not only at University Park, but across the state, to ensure that we fully optimize our assets to ensure that a Penn State education remains within reach for all citizens, not just the wealthy.

We have made great progress with our “For the Future” campaign, and the focus on creative development practices and alumni support must continue.  Additional research opportunities, public/private partnerships, corporate support of critical functions all must be explored to ensure Penn State’s future is financially secure.  The country’s private colleges thrive in part because their alumni and friends provide endowment funds that create financial security and flexibility.  Building Penn State’s endowment is one way to provide stability and a better, more predictable financial forecast.  Penn State has given me, like many of my classmates, the tools to succeed in my profession, provide for my family, and serve my community.  I believe it is the duty of every alumnus to invest in our University just as the Penn Staters who came before us invested on our behalf.

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.

A recent study by the College Board noted that, since 1978, not only did tuition increases outpace the cost of living, they also outpaced the rising cost of healthcare. We’ve been actively debating healthcare across this country — it’s time college tuition enjoyed the same attention.  We cannot ask employees of our university or students and families who pay tuition to bear the burden alone.  Today’s colleges deliver an education in essentially the same way our founders did over 150 years ago.  It’s time to bring the power of Penn State’s research, innovation and insights to bear on a problem that vexes not just us, but universities across the country.  And no doubt we all recognize that getting this right is not just about tuition costs, but about ensuring this country educates leaders prepared to compete in a global, digital economy.

Penn State must explore new ways to deliver a world-class educational experience and identify new sources of value that can help sustain the future of our University.  World Campus is a terrific example of our ability to innovate intelligently, fulfill our mission and do so at a lower cost.  But the “traditional” college experience must get the same treatment.  We can no longer afford to operate pieces of Penn State like fiefdoms, instead we need to operate as a more integrated enterprise that takes full advantage of our scale, leverages technology and innovates constantly.  We must bring the change we teach in the classroom into the Boardroom.

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

I have great pride in Penn State for so many reasons, but one of my greatest sources of pride is our Land Grant tradition.  We simply cannot — we must not — forget where we came from.    The core of what made the Morrill Land Grant so remarkable in 1862 remains true today.  The Act enabled the creation of colleges across the country “to promote the liberal and practical education of the industrial classes in the several pursuits and professions in life.”   Penn State embraced not only the endowment created by the Act, but the true grant that it made upon our Commonwealth — a vision of education as a tool to improve ourselves, our children, our communities and our world.  The accessibility of a college education to the working and middle classes may no longer seem so remarkable, but this simple idea ushered in an era of great change that brought us forward to the digital age in which we live today. Continuing in that tradition will require attention to three core strategies:  (1) the cost structure and funding must be addressed for the long term, not just next year’s budget;  (2) we must innovate our educational delivery model to respond to both the realities and needs of today’s students, and (3) we must continue to invest in and grow our research and related public/private partnerships to ensure that our funding is sufficiently diversified and our dependency on tuition and state funding is further reduced over time.

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