Board hears update on Commonwealth Campus restructuring

University Park, Pa. -- The 2005 restructuring of the Commonwealth Campuses has resulted in more streamlined operations, increased involvement of central units in campus operations and greater responsibility and autonomy assumed by campuses in many key areas, the Board of Trustees learned today (May 16).

John Romano, vice president for Commonwealth Campuses, focused on administrative organization, admissions and enrollments, academic programs, faculty resources and budget management in his informational report to the board.

Organizationally, the Office of the Vice President for Commonwealth Campuses oversees 19 of Penn State’s undergraduate campuses, including all campuses except University Park, Hershey, Dickinson School of Law, Great Valley and Penn College.  In 2005, the office was charged to develop plans and procedures to foster enrollment growth and to continue to promote the essential concept that Penn State is one University geographically dispersed.

One of the major challenges Romano and his staff faced was to create an environment that successfully balanced central oversight with campus autonomy, while at the same time ensuring Penn State quality and consistency across all units.

"In the first two years following the reorganization, the number of academic and administrative staff in the Office of the Vice President for Commonwealth Campuses was reduced by more than half, the equivalent of 20 positions, with a salary/benefit savings exceeding $1.7 million," Romano said. Positions were eliminated through attrition, he said.

Romano reported to the trustees that over the past two years, he has seen increased involvement of central units in campus operations. In addition, campuses have assumed greater responsibility and autonomy in many key areas, including strategic planning. "In the University’s strategic planning effort currently under way, each campus is responsible for developing its own strategic plan consistent with University guidelines and expectations," Romano said. "The goal here is to empower campuses to plan for their futures and make resource allocations based on local information, constraints and opportunities."

Oversight of campus athletic programs also has changed, with the formation of the Penn State University Athletic Conference, which became a member of the United States Collegiate Athletic Association. "The USCAA provides opportunities for small institutions to participate in post-season tournaments and recognizes athletes for All-American, and Academic All-American awards. These actions also will augment campus student recruitment initiatives," Romano said.

In addition to celebrating successes, Romano outlined some challenges.

"Admissions, retention and enrollments are key issues for every college and university," he said. "Each year the trustees receive a comprehensive admissions and enrollment report. In some ways, the very vitality of the University is measured by the trends observed in these critical areas."

Several years following the 1997 restructuring that provided campuses with opportunities to offer an expanded array of baccalaureate programs, the campuses saw a slow but steady multi-year decline in the first-year baccalaureate admits through fall 2005. However, since the 2005 restructuring, the campuses have seen steady growth in enrollment figures.

The reorganization in 2005 also identified two issues of primary importance to faculty: building disciplinary communities among the 19 Commonwealth Campuses and University Park, and simplifying the promotion and tenure process in the former Commonwealth College to make the process consistent University-wide.

"The University Faculty Senate and the Administrative Council on Undergraduate Education have each recommended organizational processes and structures to support greater faculty disciplinary collaboration," Romano said. "The development of disciplinary communities is ongoing and will require the continued involvement of faculty and staff across the University to achieve success."

Another goal of the reorganization was to balance the overall budget for the Commonwealth Campuses. In 2005-06, the 12 campuses of the former Commonwealth College ended the year with a $12 million tuition shortfall.

Over the past three years, budgetary control has been assigned to each of the campuses, and a more decentralized budget management process was implemented.

"I am very pleased to report that the Commonwealth Campus budget will be balanced effective July 1, 2008," Romano said. "This goal has been achieved through robust enrollment growth and budget reductions across all 19 campuses and in my office."

Romano said each campus was required to permanently reduce its operating budget by 2 percent in 2006-07, 1 percent in 2007-08, and another 1 percent is planned for the 2008-09 year.

"While we were asking our campuses to reduce their operating budgets, the Office of the Vice President for Commonwealth Campuses reduced its operating budget by over 14 percent during the same time period," he said.

Romano said that challenges for the Commonwealth Campuses exist and will remain for the future. "Enrollment changes, up and down, are inevitable going forward. The economic and demographic changes ahead are powerful forces which will affect all campuses of the University, including University Park," he said. "Within our complex University it is imperative that we continue to build disciplinary connections across all units to support faculty development and curricular consistency. And perhaps of greatest importance, we must continue to balance the important individual initiatives of campuses while ensuring that they will always be a part of Penn State in both perception and reality."

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Last Updated March 19, 2009