President talks to regional business group about status of University

Discussing the current state of affairs at Penn State, President Graham Spanier presented remarks at the annual membership luncheon for the Chamber of Business and Industry of Centre County (CBICC). The president touched on the current economic turmoil in the U.S. and how it may be affecting the University. He also discussed construction on the University Park campus, the success of Penn State sports teams, the University's commitment to the Centre Region, its research prowess and its vast reach across the state.

The luncheon was held today (Nov. 18) at The Penn Stater Conference Center on the University Park Campus.

What follows are remarks by President Spanier:

It's always a pleasure to have the opportunity to provide a brief report each year for the Chamber membership. I am proud of the town-gown relationship that exists between Penn State and our surrounding communities.  I appreciate the longstanding connections we have with our local government and schools, as well as our business community.

I have a number of things to share today, but first, I want to spend a few minutes on something that has been on everyone's mind lately – the economy.


The financial downturn has impacted all of us, and students and their families are particularly vulnerable. Credit markets have tightened, the state has told us to plan for a $15 million appropriation rescission, our endowment has dropped, and pessimism is the prevailing attitude.

Families are feeling the financial crunch, and that has resulted in an increase in student aid requests. It could also make this year more volatile than usual with acceptance yields and enrollments as families struggle with whether they can afford a college education. We will be under pressure to keep tuition increases to a minimum next year, and we also are worrying about our state appropriations. Salary increases will not be anything like what we have seen in recent years.  All in all, it will be a challenging year.

Yet despite the uncertainties, Penn State remains fundamentally strong and we are taking every possible measure to work through this economic downturn.

Earlier this year, we were one of the first universities to become a participant in the Federal Direct Loan Program. We also have been very proactive in adjusting budget priorities, and since we have traditionally followed a conservative approach to investments, debt, cash and liquidity, we have not been as severely affected as some other institutions.

Penn State is well positioned to handle the financial challenges ahead. In fact, there has been some very good news at Penn State. 


Penn State continues to be a leading employer in the region and state. Last month, we wrote about 42,000 paychecks; 23,000 of those were to faculty and staff at University Park.

Penn State's enrollment for 24 campuses and the World Campus stands at 92,613, which is an increase of 2,000 students over a year ago. The University Park campus saw an increase in enrollment of nearly 1,200 students, to 43,272.

Penn State continues to be the most popular university in the nation, and applications for next year are on the rise – at last count we were already 5 percent ahead of the same period last year. Last year we received 101,500 applications. You can expect that University Park will have full enrollment for years to come.


Given the close proximity of students and State College residents, we are always looking for ways to improve the town-gown relationship.
One new joint initiative between the Borough and Penn State was LION Walk, which was undertaken in August. LION stands for Living In One Neighborhood.

During the inaugural LION Walk, teams of four — comprised of local police, students, borough officials, and University personnel — went to homes in areas where students and permanent residents live side-by-side. They distributed tips on how to be good neighbors and other information on ordinances regarding trash, parties, noise, parking and recycling. Mayor Bill Welch and I spent some time knocking on doors, as did many others. It was a great experience and one we expect to repeat annually.  

Another way Penn State students interact with the community is through the State College Area School District internship program. Many of the parents here have probably met our student teachers, and we're very proud of the work they do. I'm told that this spring, Nittany Lion punter Jeremy Boone will be a student teacher at Gray's Woods Elementary School– I'm sure all of the kids will be trying to recruit him for recess.

We continue to be very involved with the downtown partnership, for example, looking at creative uses for the new Fraser Center.  We are continuing to work on how University spaces that interface with the downtown come together.  Our new vice president for Student Affairs is actively engaged in discussions with borough leaders on student behavioral issues.  Our police forces continue their excellent cooperation.  We coordinate emergency planning with local governments.

As you may know, Penn State serves as the backup 911 center for the county, we work closely with the Commonwealth's Homeland Security initiatives, and we are a backup site for state government in the event of an emergency.  Our students and staff continue to comprise a large portion of our local volunteer firefighters. 
We are actively involved in trying to bring improved air service to State College.  We have initiated a safe and efficient bus service to New York City in partnership with Fullington Bus lines; although this was done to help out thousands of our students and faculty, the service is open to all in the community.  And we assist the Chamber in attracting new businesses to the community. 


Penn State continues to enhance the quality of our programs and the beauty of our area with our new buildings and landscaping projects.

Our new Student Health Center was dedicated in September.  This bright, technologically sophisticated building will serve as a national model for 21st century healthcare in a campus setting.

There also has been progress on the Arboretum, with the completion of the first phase scheduled for spring 2009. As many of you know, Penn State was able to begin the H.O. Smith Botanic Gardens of the Arboretum as a result of the $10 million gift from Charles "Skip" Smith in honor of his late father, Harry, who was better known as H.O.

H.O. was a Penn State alumnus – class of 1920, a Penn State faculty member, successful businessman, and founder of the State College Construction Company and H.O. Smith and Sons, a local development and rental company. The H.O. Smith Botanic Gardens will be a focal point of the Arboretum that will eventually cover 400 acres.

I'm very pleased to note that the Arboretum has recently received an additional gift — $1 million from State College native Marcia Udine Day and her late husband, Robert J. Day, to support Arboretum programs related to special interests of children and youth. The Arboretum will be a magnificent attraction and will provide wonderful benefits to the area.

Next to the Arboretum is the Lewis Katz building of The Dickinson School of Law. It is nearly complete and will be ready for occupancy in the next few weeks. I invite you all to the dedication in April so you can see this spectacular building for yourselves.


Last year, our research enterprise culminated in a record $717 million for research funding. That represents almost an 8 percent increase over the prior year. This ranks Penn State among the leaders worldwide, third in the nation for research supported by industry, and second in defense-related research. Within Pennsylvania, Penn State conducts more industry-sponsored research than all other colleges and universities combined.


Penn State is also a leader is outreach. We have the largest outreach effort in higher education, touching nearly 2 million Pennsylvania households each year – that's one in every two households in the state.
Penn State is a major destination for people of all ages. Last year, Penn State Conferences and Institutes ran more than 330 programs and events. These programs brought 43,000 youth and adults to our area, each for an average of three to four days. We continue to look for ways to make Penn State a favored venue for educational activities, tournaments, performances and other high profile events that attract visitors to our area.


Finally, I hope you have all been enjoying Nittany Lions sports as much as I have this fall.

I hope you will continue to support all of our teams. In addition to the spectacular football team, we have Big Ten champions in women's soccer, field hockey and volleyball. And we have many great teams to watch through the winter, including men's and women's basketball, gymnastics, fencing, indoor track and field, swimming and diving and men's volleyball and wrestling. Please join us for the fun. 


Finally, I hope you'll all take a little time to view my annual State of the University presentation. This is the third year we've used a video format, and it captures some of the highlights from this campus and others across the state. This year my State of the University address focuses on the physical evolution of our campus buildings and green spaces.   You can view it online – there's a link from the Penn State home page ( . Thank you all for your support.


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Last Updated March 19, 2009