Program changes necessary to capture savings and opportunities

University Park, Pa. -- Pennsylvania, like other states across the nation, is struggling with a budget shortfall in the billions. For universities such as Penn State that rely on state support, the picture for the coming year is challenging, to say the least.

Penn State officials have been planning for broad changes to help compensate for years of stagnant state support, while still allowing the University to seize new opportunities.

As part of its strategic planning process, Penn State leaders have been focusing attention on all academic programs and support services within the University, not only to identify cost savings, but also to ensure efficient use of resources. This approach is also intended to find areas of opportunity, where academic quality can be improved and access for students can be increased.

Over the last several weeks, recommendations for some program consolidations and closures have been announced as college deans, chancellors and other budget executives prepare their units for change. These recommendations, and others that follow in the coming months, are part of this data-driven, systematic, University-wide review at all campuses. Budget executives whose programs or functions have been reviewed have been asked to provide a progress report in several months on actions that have been taken in response to the recommendations.

"Closing and consolidating programs is never an easy thing to do, but a decade and more of state appropriation cuts has inevitable consequences," said Penn State Executive Vice President and Provost Rod Erickson. "We can no longer afford to be all things to all people in the Commonwealth." However, Erickson stressed that this process is proceeding in a way that will make the University stronger in support of those programs and functions that will continue.

Erickson explained that shifting demographics, rising costs of operation, a changing competitive landscape, reductions in state appropriations, pressures for accountability, and widespread economic downturn characterize the environment in which Penn State currently operates.

"These pressures clearly necessitate change, but it's important to understand that while financial concerns are a factor, these changes are about more than just the bottom line," Erickson said. "By consolidating or closing under-enrolled programs and courses, eliminating duplication of offerings, and streamlining support services, not only are we operating more efficiently, but more importantly, we ultimately are increasing the quality of the education we're offering our students."

Last March, Penn State President Graham Spanier established the Academic and Administrative Services Review Core Council and charged the group to identify $10 million in permanent cost savings and nontuition revenue sources for the coming fiscal year. Since then, the council's review committees, made up of faculty, staff and administrators from University Park and the Commonwealth campuses, have been analyzing data about program enrollments, costs, centrality, duplication, future outlook and other factors related to program offerings and unit operations.

"Every dean, chancellor, or other unit executive is having input," explained Louise Sandmeyer, executive director of planning and institutional assessment. Sandmeyer stressed that the Core Council's process is "extremely thorough, thoughtful and deliberate," and aimed at making Penn State a leaner and better institution.
The recommendations for curricular changes put forward by the Core Council, as well as others that will be forthcoming over the next few months, will be acted upon by the Faculty Senate. Any major reorganization of academic units is subject to Senate review and recommendation, and ultimately must be approved by the Board of Trustees before implementation.

Penn State is not alone in this process of review and restructuring. Most other colleges and universities in the nation also are faced with making changes in response to budget challenges stemming from the nation's continuing weak economy.

"We're facing the loss of the federal stimulus money we've received the past two years, and with the Commonwealth facing a multi-billion dollar shortfall, we've got to be realistic. It cannot be business as usual," said Erickson.

The University's strategic plan can be found at online. The specific goals and implementation strategies related to program and support units can be found at online. Information about the Core Council and a list of members of the review committees is at online.

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Last Updated February 24, 2011