Ronald C. Wagner Jr., Ballot Position No. 32
Read Wagner’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?
When funding drops, you either have to raise revenue or reduce expenses to compensate. Penn State has to do both and they can do so in dramatic fashion by “expanding the classroom.” Whether Penn State wants to admit this or not, the foundation of higher education has shifted under our feet.
The growth of online learning has led many to challenge the value of a 4-year residence-based education. I believe Penn State needs to more urgently embrace, expand and place premium value on the World Campus, eliminate underperforming satellite campuses or convert them to digital learning hubs and reduce questionable, costly prerequisites in many majors.
These actions alone will result in lower operating expenses, lower fees to students and a more robust, relevant and balanced Penn State that is leaning forward into the digital learning age.
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.
The storm clouds aren’t on the horizon; they’ve arrived: parents and students are questioning the value of a $100K+ education in the face of a dismal job market for recent or soon-to-be graduates, especially when the internet is allowing young adults to start businesses on their own without the benefit of a degree.
Penn State must take steps to stay relevant, different and better to weather the storm. And they can do that by challenging commonly-accepted conventional wisdom. This is part of my “expanding the classroom” initiative. A four-year degree can easily be reduced to three years by eliminating questionable electives and pre-requisites. On-line learning through the World Campus can reduce or eliminate the need for residence-based education.
Academic programs that don’t lead to sustainable, multi-generation careers must take a back-seat to degree offerings that provide a greater certainty of jobs upon graduation. Do these three things and you’ll attract and retain students, reduce expenses for them without having to sacrifice premium value and brand reputation.
3. What form should Penn State’s land-grant mission take in the 21st century?
Well-built companies and brands tend to drift or lose their focus over time if left unattended. Penn State may very well be a victim of that drift. As a land grant institution, Penn State was founded on the basis of providing a practical education in agriculture, engineering and science. Over time, Penn State has largely stayed true to this, though they’ve diversified their academic offerings as we all know. I am by no means an expert on land grant institutions but I know this: a University should provide academic programs that reflect student interest and lead to sustainable careers…and it must support the public good.
According to the latest census, Penn State is ranked 29th of 50 states in average educational attainment level. And it’s 44 of 50 in terms of median age of residents. Pennsylvanians are older and less educated than the rest of the nation. If Penn State stays true to the land-grant charter and re-focuses efforts around that, they’ll broaden practical programs that allow students to become educated in and ultimately address and solve the very real problems facing the state and country: responsible energy exploration, environmental protection, agricultural sustainability and infrastructure development. Penn State, if it re-connects with the core purpose of the land-grant institution, can keep students learning, working and building families in-state, re-building the future of the commonwealth and the country in the process.