Faculty Senate hears reports on student debt, employee benefits

October 13, 2011

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- Penn State's University Faculty Senate on Tuesday (Oct. 11) received reports on student loan debt and financial literacy needs, employee benefit changes and University space allocation and utilization. Senators also passed legislation to update membership rules for the Joint Committee on Insurance and Benefits.

Anna Griswold, assistant vice president for undergraduate education and executive director of student aid, said in her report on student debt and financial literacy that though the Penn State student loan default rate is much lower than the national average, it is higher than the average among Big Ten institutions.

She noted that a number of issues contribute to high loan debt. Tuition has increased while funding from state and federal grant programs has remained generally flat. Penn State students, she said, come from a broad range of socioeconomic backgrounds, and those from low and moderate incomes rely on educational loans to pay costs. Nationally, meanwhile, the number of students using credit cards and their average balances have increased significantly over the past decade.

Penn State has strong graduation rates and success in job placement, so most students manage loans well, Griswold said, explaining that students receive loan counseling when they first borrow and again prior to leaving the University. Information on financial literacy is made available to students through the websites of the Office of Student Affairs and Office of Student Aid. Those sites provide access to cashcourse.org/psu, a site that offers financial literacy information for students through a partnership between the Office of Alumni Relations and the National Endowment for Financial Education.

Griswold said to better educate students, available information should be promoted more widely. She added that the Senate Committee on Student Life is discussing the need for a financial literacy program.

"An increasing default rate on federal student loans and the current state of the economy both suggest that our students need to be better prepared for the real-world financial experiences they will encounter," Griswold said.

In a separate report, Susan Basso, associate vice president for human resources, discussed the University's three-year employee benefits strategy. Basso explained that beginning in 2012, the employee health care plan will offer four coverage tiers and contributions will be determined based on the employee’s annual salary. For 87 percent of Penn State employees, the changes will result in a decrease from 2011in their contributions.

To help continue to keep costs for employees and the University lower, plans call for incentives for employee participation in wellness programs and preventive care beginning in 2013, as well as the introduction of a dependent eligibility verification program in 2012.

Employees using flexible spending accounts for health care expenses will receive a prefunded debit card, no longer needing to submit those expenses to human resources for reimbursement.

For other benefits, beginning in 2012 employees will see a decrease in life insurance premiums or a premium holiday, as well as an increase in voluntary life insurance options. Additionally, the Employee Assistance Program will be offered through a new provider, Health Advocate, which will provide additional services.

For the future, human resources is examining possibilities including increased employer-paid life insurance, a dependent life insurance option, enhanced long-term disability insurance, short-term disability insurance options, voluntary employee contributions to retiree health care savings accounts and an audit of Highmark's claims processing.

Employees can view more information on benefits at http://ohr.psu.edu/benefits/benefits-enrollment.

In another report, Deborah Howard, director for facilities resources and planning, provided the inaugural report on space allocation and utilization across the University.

At all campuses, Penn State has 30.3 million gross square feet containing 17.4 million assignable square feet in 1,784 buildings. The majority of assigned space is for instruction, auxiliary services and intercollegiate athletics.

Howard said that Penn State has the second lowest assignable space per full-time equivalent student enrollment among all Big Ten institutions. She said this highlights the University's efficient use of existing space.

She added that general purpose technology classrooms at the University have grown significantly during the past 20 years, and the learning spaces of the 21st century need to be much different than the traditional classroom. She noted that modern classrooms need to be flexible and technologically-enhanced while facilitating collaboration and new scheduling patterns.

To view Howard's report, visit http://senate.psu.edu/agenda/2011-2012/oct2011/appg.pdf.

In the only legislative report of the day, the Senate voted to revise standing rules for the Joint Committee on Insurance and Benefits to make its membership more inclusive of all University constituencies, fostering discussion of benefit impacts University-wide. A sixth faculty member who is a retired faculty senator will serve a one-year, renewable term. Appointments by the President increase from five to seven with the addition of a member selected from the Teamsters Local Union No. 8 and one from the Office and Professional Employees International Union Healthcare Pennsylvania.

In other reports:

• Senators received an annual report on Faculty Senate Scholarships awarded to undergraduate students. In 2010-11, 223 students with an average GPA of 3.82 and representing all campuses and colleges shared in $223,164 in scholarships. Of the recipients, 90 percent were Pennsylvania residents. View the full report at http://senate.psu.edu/agenda/2011-2012/oct2011/appc.pdf.

• Anne Rohrbach, executive director for undergraduate admissions, submitted an annual report on high school students enrolled nondegree in credit courses. University-wide, enrollments decreased by 144 students, but increased at nine campuses. Penn State Beaver saw enrollments increase 32 percent to a record 253 students. A total of 1,465 high school students enrolled University-wide. For the full report, go to http://senate.psu.edu/agenda/2011-2012/oct2011/appd.pdf.

The Faculty Senate will hold its next meeting at 1:30 p.m. on Dec. 6 in 112 Kern Graduate Building, University Park.


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Last Updated October 13, 2011