University's open budget website assists visitors with primer

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- Penn State's open budget website, at online, includes more than 2,500 online pages of information covering the University's $4.1 billion annual budget. To make the University's complex budget information easier to navigate and content easier to understand, the University Budget Office has redesigned its website and created a short budget primer, which explains the components of Penn State's budget and how specific funding sources must be allocated.

"Penn State's open budget website, totaling several thousand pages of content, has been available online for more than a decade," said Penn State President Rodney Erickson. "In our ongoing effort to be forthcoming, we felt it was important to offer a clear, concise explanation of the University's budget functionality and its income and expense distributions across our campuses, colleges and related units."

The University's Public Accountability information, which includes audited financial statements and Right-to-Know Law reports, is still linked directly from the University Budget Office's main page and now also is listed in the first paragraph of the budget primer. Budget office staff also have posted a comment page on the front page of the site to invite suggestions for making Penn State budget information even easier to understand.

The online primer, found by clicking on the main site's boldface link labeled "Click here to learn more about Penn State's Budget," welcomes the visitor with three short, explanatory paragraphs above a predominant color pie chart previously available within the University Budget Office website. The text above the chart points out that budget information is available within each fund type at several levels called "report types," a term hyperlinked to a glossary page defining five types of summaries, plus budgets listed by department name and administrative department budgets listed by function. The last item also is hyperlinked to a glossary page explaining functional classifications.

The pie chart separates Penn State's operating budget into its five primary fund categories: General Funds, Hospital and Clinic Operations at the Milton S. Hershey Medical Center, Restricted Funds, Auxiliary Enterprise Funds and Agricultural Federal Funds. Below the pie chart, each fund's purpose is explained in a one -to three-sentence paragraph, with links directed to either more information -- in the case of the General Funds category, which encompasses nearly half of the University operating budget -- or to links for both the current fiscal year's "budget detail" and the prior fiscal year's actual income and expenses, labeled "expenditure detail."

The additional information link provided for the General Funds budget, the largest portion of the University's operating budget, redirects to two additional pie charts. One chart illustrates its three income sources; from largest to smallest, they are: tuition and fees, state appropriations and other income, such as recovery of indirect costs, investment income, and sales and services of departments. The other chart lists its eight expense categories; from largest to smallest, they are: instruction, academic support, institutional support, physical plant, student services, research, public service and student aid. Links for each of those expense categories redirect to the "functional classification" glossary page. Near the bottom of the General Funds page, a line chart shows the history of annual state appropriations Penn State has received since the 2001-02 fiscal year. At the bottom of the page are links for more information comparing state appropriation funds with tuition and fees, plus a link to a graph demonstrating a 40-year historical relationship between those two income sources.

The Auxiliary Enterprise Funds budget is self-supporting; no tuition or government funds are used to support the activities of units within this budget category. The remaining three budget categories receive funding from various sources, including donors, grants, College of Medicine tuition and fees and federal- and state-appropriated funds. Each of those sources has certain limitations imposed on how those dollars can be allocated. Philanthropic gifts, for instance, are almost always directed toward donor-specified use, and research grant funds must be used for a designated research purpose.

Tertiary links within the budget primer point to allocations among Penn State campuses and the University's related units that receive separate state line-item funding, such as the Pennsylvania College of Technology and Penn State Hershey's College of Medicine.

It's important to note that the Hospital/Clinic at The Milton S. Hershey Medical Center is a subsidiary corporation within Penn State, formed to operate the clinical activities, both hospital and physician, that occur at the Medical Center. The College of Medicine at Penn State Hershey, an academic unit, receives funding from the General Funds, Restricted Funds and Auxiliary Enterprises budget categories. These combine with the Hershey Medical Center's Hospital and Clinic Operations budget to form Penn State Hershey's total annual operating budget.

"It's my hope that this online primer will shed additional light on University budget information previously available but perhaps not easily digested by the general visitor," said Erickson. "As a state-related instrumentality of the Commonwealth, Penn State is committed to sharing its budget information in a way that makes the operations of our complex and comprehensive University clearer for our many constituencies, from students and alumni to donors and stakeholders, especially the citizens of Pennsylvania."

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Last Updated February 24, 2012