Trustees hear strategic plan update

May 14, 2010

University Park, Pa. -- As the University implements the five-year strategic plan adopted by the Board of Trustees last May, the main considerations for Executive Vice President and Provost Rod Erickson are that the process remains open, collaborative and on track. In a presentation on Friday, May 14, Erickson updated the trustees on the implementation of the plan.

"The challenge for Penn State and for our peers in higher education is to find ways to enhance student success and fulfill the University’s mission and vision while operating within tight financial constraints – now and into the future," Erickson told the board. He reminded the board of the plan's seven overarching goals – to enhance student success; to advance academic excellence and research prominence; to realize Penn State’s potential as a global university; to maintain access and affordability and enhance diversity; to serve the people of the Commonwealth and beyond; to use technology to expand access and opportunities; and to control costs and generate additional efficiencies – and of the 38 total strategies for achieving those goals.

One difference in this strategic plan from previous plans is that key administrators or groups have been assigned responsibility for the implementation of each strategy. "Some strategies will result in cost savings. Some will make resources available for other uses. Other strategies are cost-neutral. And some strategies will require new sources of funding as the economy improves and as we make resources available through our other funding choices," Erickson said.
Erickson said 23 strategies were targeted to launch this academic year, and he shared preliminary highlights of the progress, including:

-- 90 percent of undergraduate programs now have formally stated learning objectives and many academic units are putting formal learning outcomes assessment practices into place.

-- Considerable progress is being made in helping students through key transitions in their university experience. For more information on the efforts to improve the student change of assignment to University Park Campus, visit online.

-- In an effort to realize Penn State's global potential, the Office of Global Programs has been restructured and strengthened. Several task forces have developed strategies for “Global Engagement Networks” in key regions of the world that will drive the University’s vision of stronger, more focused university partnerships.

--The College of Medicine and Penn State’s Hershey Medical Center are moving forward with several initiatives to increase research and clinical capabilities in Central Pennsylvania and the Centre Region.

--The World Campus continues to thrive as a major growth area of the University. A new financial cost center built around the World Campus will allow an even stronger business model to drive decision making about current and future program offerings.

--A major study of potential efficiencies and service delivery improvements regarding information technologies has been launched to determine the best balance between centralized and distributed service provision.

--Changes surrounding major cost drivers such as health care are being planned and implemented in order to better contain future cost increases. In fact, changes to retiree health insurance have already been put in place.

--Because faculty and our infrastructure for teaching and research are such important core elements for the University, formal policies for more efficient and equitable instructional workloads are being developed, and ways to better utilize space and physical resources are being explored.

-- Academic officers at 19 campuses are developing operational principles and guidelines for successful cross-campus collaboration. This will enable increased enrollment in academic programs and the eLearning cooperative by sharing faculty and other resources.

Final reports for these and other year-one accomplishments will be submitted by the end of June.

Regarding the plan's stated goal to "Consolidate Academic and Administrative Programs through Targeted Reviews," Erickson told the board that after 18 years of internal budget reductions and reallocations, most of the low-hanging cost savings already have been achieved. "Penn State is a very efficient University. At this point, we must think deliberately about the need to shrink, consolidate or eliminate some programs or activities, in order to be able to invest in areas of existing strength or in promising new ideas," he said.

This is a topic that he spent a fair amount of time discussing during a meeting he held in April with faculty, calling it a "very, very challenging task in higher education." As he explained, "We have tried to take a look at this whole process in a rather structured way that would involve the participation of a number of people. Any time we're dealing with academic programs, there's a long timeline, you need lead time just to make those changes. Clearly there's a lot of discussion that has to take place."

Erickson views collaboration with the units to be a much-needed part of the process. "If we were going to do something top-down, we wouldn't be out trying to gather all these data about what's actually going on and letting the data speak for themselves," he said. "There's no sort of manifesto that's going to be fastened to the Old Main door that says 'This is going to happen on such-and-such a date.' We want to listen, give feedback, get feedback—then act."

Erickson also acknowledged the importance of research to the University. "One of the reasons students come to Penn State is to come to a research university, and we must never forget that that's what really sets us apart from other institutions," he said. "We discover. We create the knowledge. Our goal is to involve students in the research and creative processes."

Erickson also spoke about other areas the University is targeting for improvement, including more efficient use of instructional space and research facilities. Another area he cited is instructional productivity. "We need to understand that the most important resource we have here is our faculty. How we utilize our faculty, and how they contribute to the overall program of instruction is a very, very important issue for us," and one that will be examined very closely in this process, he said.

As Erickson said both at the faculty meeting in April, and to the trustees on May 14, "Any proposed academic or organizational changes will require review by the Faculty Senate. We will continue to keep the trustees and the rest of the Penn State community informed of progress in implementing the plan and any significant issues that emerge from the review processes."

The complete plan, including the implementation matrices, is available at

  • IMAGE: Annemarie Mountz

(Media Contacts)

Last Updated November 18, 2010