Board hears about strategic plan and continuing progress

University Park, Pa. — Over the last two decades, Penn State has reallocated $203 million to strategically important academic areas and received approval from the Board of Trustees for the restructuring, elimination or merger of more than a hundred programs and numerous departments. These were just a few of the results Penn State Executive Vice President and Provost Rod Erickson reported to the Board of Trustees Friday (May 13) as he gave an informational report on the progress made in the implementation of "Priorities for Excellence: The Penn State Strategic Plan 2009-10 through 2013-14."

Erickson reported that Penn State's enrollment has grown, even as the University has been focused on efficiencies and cost savings. Between fall 2001 and fall 2010, undergraduate and graduate enrollment at University Park, the 19 Commonwealth Campuses and online enrollment in the World Campus has increased by more than 14,000 students.

"Even while colleges, campuses, academic and administrative support units have been asked to reduce their operating budgets, enrollment increases have required the allocation of additional resources to provide the programs, courses and support services that these students need," Erickson said. "We are gratified by the continuing strong student interest in a Penn State education, and we are committed to providing the high-quality education that our students expect and deserve."

Erickson reminded the board of the seven overarching goals of the plan, which can be found at online, and updated them on progress being made for each goal.

The most visible of the goals implemented in the last year have been those related to the consolidation of academic and administrative programs through targeted reviews conducted by three coordinating committees under the direction of the Academic and Administrative Services Review Core Council, which Erickson chairs. "Core Council recommendations to the University Park colleges have been based on many factors, including enrollments as a reflection of student demand, degrees awarded, faculty productivity, cost per student credit hour generated, and centrality to the core academic mission," Erickson said.

Recommendations have included the elimination or merging of degree programs and academic departments, the consolidation of academic options, and the placing of some programs that are not thriving on a "watch list" to determine if they can remain viable.

Other recommendations include:

-- an extensive list of courses to be dropped
-- a reduction in under-enrolled sections
-- areas identified for sharing infrastructure and services across colleges
-- rationalization or redeployment of faculty resources, and
-- the reduction of graduate student numbers in some fields.

"Recommendations specific to the Commonwealth Campuses will include consolidating or phasing out associate degrees for which demand is low and eliminating a few baccalaureate degrees," Erickson told the board. "As a matter of course, campuses adjust their faculty and staff levels based on enrollment changes and also share infrastructure in some cases. Finding opportunities to adjust staffing levels and to share infrastructure will be approached with greater urgency."

The third Core Council committee is looking at opportunities for cost-savings in academic and administrative services. Changes in those areas include:

-- The requirement for all general funds units to cover benefit costs for new hires beginning in 2011-12.
-- Changes to the health benefits programs implemented in January 2011 that incorporate more consumer-driven principles including the implementation of deductibles, increased co-payments for specialist visits, ambulance and emergency room services, and prescription drugs for Medicare-eligible retirees.
-- The elimination of a modest tuition benefit previously available to some faculty and staff located away from University Park who could not access a Penn State program.

Additional areas in Finance and Business Services that are targeted for savings include:

-- Operating efficiencies in administrative units.
-- Re-engineering in a number of University-wide processes.
-- Energy savings initiatives.
-- Strategic procurement opportunities.
-- Additional overhead recovery from auxiliary enterprises.
-- Streamlining travel processes and more aggressive contracting with travel providers.

Erickson also outlined plans for revenue enhancement that would benefit student learning, including the development of more integrated undergraduate/graduate programs; providing more courses and degrees through the World Campus; and developing an improved summer schedule.

Related to the goal of enhancing student success, Erickson spoke about the work being done by the University Assessment Coordination Committee to compile data on program-specific learning outcomes for academic programs University-wide. "We have assessed the core education experience at Penn State by working with the Senate Committee on Undergraduate Education to identify high enrollment courses and outcome measures in the General Education curriculum," he said. He also spoke about the growth of undergraduate research opportunities, which further enhance student learning. The University also launched a new orientation program to improve students' transition into their majors and their changes of campus assignment.

While much progress has been made, Erickson said the work to implement all of the strategic plan is far from over. "We have completed only two years of the five year strategic plan. Next year, we will be continuing with some tasks and tackling some third year strategies," he said. "One promising next step is to identify the optimal balance and distribution of some of our core services, such as Human Resources, Continuing Education, Career Services, and Information Technology. Study and discussion of these issues will continue into next year."

Updates on the progress of the strategic plan implementation can be found at

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Last Updated May 16, 2011