Board of Trustees meets; President Erickson's remarks

March 15, 2013

Penn State President Rodney Erickson delivered the following remarks during the regular meeting of the Board of Trustees, held March 15 at Penn State Milton S. Hershey Medical Center.

Special thanks to Hal Paz, senior vice president for Health Affairs and CEO of the Penn State Hershey Medical Center, and the many faculty, staff and students, who have been so welcoming and helpful throughout our Board visit. Holding our March meeting on this campus has become an annual tradition, and one that reflects the strong connections the Medical Center and College of Medicine have within our University and the Commonwealth.

One of the most visible reminders of our connection is through THON, which was held last month. Often when we talk about THON, we recount the numbers – 15,000 students involved in a 46-hour event; helping 2,000 families; a record-breaking $12.4 million raised this year; more than $100 million raised since 1977.

But the Four Diamonds Fund and THON are really about the individual stories of courage, resilience, inspiration, and ultimately hope. It’s an honor to spend time with our Four Diamonds families and to see the progress made possible through medical science.

It’s also an honor to spend time with the physicians, researchers and many medical professionals who care for these families. As one former THON overall chair said, “We set our sights, not on the money, but on helping the kids.” 

Thank you to everyone who has contributed their support to this incredible event. As you know, we are in the midst of what feels like an unprecedented number of searches for senior positions at Penn State. I’m heartened by the many top-notch individuals vying for the positions, and to hear their enthusiasm for Penn State’s mission.

Today, I’m pleased to introduce two such individuals. On April 1, Regis Becker will begin as the University’s first director of ethics and compliance. Regis comes to Penn State from PPG Industries, where he served as the chief compliance officer. In this position, he coordinated the multifaceted compliance program at a $15 billion global company with 40,000 employees and manufacturing operations in 38 countries. He also managed the PPG Crisis Response Unit.

Previously, Regis managed investigative functions at Union Carbide Corporation, and he served as a special agent with the FBI.  Regis earned a bachelor of science in law enforcement at Penn State, an MBA at Western Connecticut State University and a J.D. at Duquesne University School of Law.

I also want to introduce Julie Del Giorno, who will be Penn State’s first athletics integrity officer. Julie will be responsible for the development, implementation and oversight of policies and practices within the Department of Intercollegiate Athletics that ensure compliance and ethical conduct.

Julie comes to Penn State from Moravian College and Moravian Theological Seminary, where she served as chief of staff and as the senior administrator with athletic oversight for the college’s NCAA Division III Athletics program. Previously, she held coaching and administrative positions at the University of Central Arkansas and the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. From 1986 to 1995, Julie served as a commissioned officer in the U.S. Army, and was honored for her service during combat operations with the U.S. Army’s Bronze Star Medal. 

Julie earned a bachelor of science degree from the U.S. Military Academy and an MBA from the University of Central Arkansas.

This is the time of year when we expect a degree of budget uncertainty based on the state appropriation deliberations. This year, however, the greater uncertainty is the matter of sequestration, which will affect our federal research funding and some of our student aid programs, such as the Work Study Program. The main question is "how much?" And we won’t know that answer for some time, but it could be in the $30 million to $40 million ballpark, with our most research-active colleges, including the College of Medicine, and the Applied Research Lab experiencing a disproportionate share of the impacts.

In the meantime, we’re concentrating on making our case for improved future funding to state legislators. I was pleased to represent Penn State’s interests at the House and Senate appropriations hearings in late February, and to have the opportunity to discuss funding for the agricultural research and cooperative extension lines and other special needs. It was clear that the legislators are deeply concerned with affordability as well as completion rates.

For Penn State students who begin their studies at University Park, the average time-to-degree is 4.2 years and the 6-year graduation rate is 87 percent. Given that 62 percent of our Commonwealth Campus students work more than 22 hours a week on average, or complete their degree at another college or university, it is understandable that those graduation rates are lower and hover around 55 percent.

Last year, we held tuition to the lowest increase in 45 years, and I’ve committed to the governor and leadership of the General Assembly that we will have another modest increase next academic year.

As I do at each meeting, I’ll provide a brief admissions update. Margaret Mead said, "Always remember that you are absolutely unique. Just like everyone else."

I bring up that quote, because it so aptly applies to this year’s class of applicants. They are unique – or at least compared to prior years. First, the high school class of 2013 seems to be applying to fewer places, and notably, they’re settling on a school earlier.

Consistent with this trend, our applications for admission are down about 9 percent compared to last year, but our yield rate, that is, students who have been accepted and submitted their deposits, continues to track ahead of last year. University Park is up 3 percentage points in yield, and the Commonwealth Campuses are up 1 percentage point.

International applications continue to show double digit increases, and the yield rate is up compared to last year for this entering cohort as well. 

All in all, the incoming class is very strong, and the total number of students who have committed to Penn State is virtually identical to last year. The quality of the applicants is also consistent with past years. 

Hal Paz will be discussing the College of Medicine in his remarks, but it’s noteworthy that applications to the Penn State College of Medicine are up 5 percent. The new crop of students will be taking the place of our graduating medical students, who earlier today attended the Match Day Ceremony to learn where they’ll serve their residency. If you see any smiling and relieved medical students today, be sure to offer your congratulations.

This year, the World Campus celebrated its 15th anniversary. Launched with just 41 students in five academic programs in 1998, today the World Campus has nearly 12,000 fully online students in more than 90 programs. It has also seen five straight years of double-digit enrollment growth, and a number of awards for excellence in academic programming.

Most recently Penn State’s World Campus launched its first online graduate nursing degree. We can expect additional innovative programming to come. A related new initiative is Penn State’s foray into MOOCs – Massive Open Online Courses through Coursera. We’re testing the waters with five courses, led by an engaging and intellectual group – among them Richard Alley, part of a Nobel-prize winning team, Peter Hudson, Andrew Read and Anna Divinsky. 

Penn State's initial offerings range from art to energy to entrepreneurship, and the response has been overwhelming. About 45,000 students have already enrolled, with nearly 1,000 more signing up each day. 

Our goal with this MOOC initiative is to advance key University priorities, including showcasing faculty expertise, testing innovative learning strategies, engaging with communities around the world and attracting students to continue their education at Penn State, either in-person or online. In addition, MOOCs offer high school students an opportunity to pre-shop for college majors and provide existing students with a way to supplement their learning. You too can become a “coursarian,” as the students call themselves. To register, visit

Penn State also has given our Web presence a facelift with a graphically appealing, more user-friendly new interface. It’s the first major redesign in more than a decade.  

The new design was led by University Relations and IT Communications, and involved representatives from across the University. I encourage you to explore all it has to offer; and to visit, formerly called “Live.” Kevin Mooroney, vice provost of Information Technology, and Cindy Hall, interim chief marketing officer in University Relations led the effort. Cindy is with us, so please join me in recognizing her for her excellent work.

The talents of Penn State students were on full display this spring. In February, we held the 7th annual Penn State President’s Concert at the National Presbyterian Church in Washington, D.C.

It is always remarkable to see the same students who shuffle along our campus walkways in cargo pants and t-shirts transform into virtuoso performers to rival many professionals. The beautifully executed concert featured the Penn State Concert Choir, Symphonic Wind Ensemble, Baroque Ensemble, Brass Ensemble, a marimba duo and a piano soloist. Pipe organ accompaniment was provided by internationally acclaimed organist William Neil, a 1966 Penn State alumnus and 2011 Penn State Alumni Fellow.

Penn State College of Communications students also were in the spotlight when their weekly newscast was named the best in the nation. Two students also captured first-place in individual categories in the prestigious Broadcast Education Association Festival of Media Arts, a nationwide competition honoring the best in faculty- and student-produced media.

Not to be outdone, 4 Smeal College of Business students recently returned from the Marshall International Case Competition with a third-place trophy—the highest position of all participating American universities.

The Smeal team, led by case team director Andy Gustafson, assistant professor of business administration, included marketing major Devin Weakland, actuarial science and economics major Benjamin Pugh, accounting and finance major Nicholas Fakelmann, and supply chain and information systems major Samantha Jarmul. Professor Gutafson said, “Nick, Devin, Ben and Samantha were not only great competitors, but also great ambassadors for Penn State.”

Employers have taken note of our students’ abilities, and more than 300 employers have signed up for Penn State’s Spring Career Days, which will be held in the Bryce Jordan Center on March 20 and 21. The employers will be hiring for internship, full-time and co-op positions. This is part of our continuing commitment to helping our students successfully navigate the transition from college to career.

Each year, many Penn State students choose to begin their professional life with organizations like Teach for America or the Peace Corps. This year, the Peace Corps ranked Penn State alumni among the nation’s top collegiate volunteers. With 55 undergraduate alumni serving overseas and working in fields such as agriculture, education, environment, health, community economic development and youth development, Penn State is No. 21 on the Peace Corps' 2013 rankings of colleges and universities in the large school category.

Moving on to Athletics …

This academic year, Penn State student-athletes won seven Big Ten Championships, which is a Penn State record. And earlier this month, eight Penn State teams were ranked in the Top 10 nationally in their respective sports.  Among those leaders were the Nittany Lion wrestlers, ranked No. 1 throughout the year. They lived up to that billing once again, winning their third straight Big Ten Championship. Head Coach Cael Sanderson has now won three Big Ten crowns in his four years at Penn State. As a matter of fact, since taking over the program, Cael and his staff are a perfect 13-0 in coaching Big Ten Tournament Finals matches!

The Nittany Lions will next head to Des Moines, Iowa, for the 2013 NCAA Wrestling Championships on March 21-23. Penn State will be looking to win its third straight NCAA title.

Congratulations go to the Lady Lions, who are the back-to-back Big 10 regular season champions. Maggie Lucas was selected as the 2013 Big Ten Player of the Year as well as for this year’s First Team Big Ten All-Tournament team. Next for the Lady Lions is the NCAA Tournament. The selection show is slated for Monday, so we can look forward to more great basketball in the days to come.

After an outstanding indoor season, the Nittany Lion men’s track team finished ninth at the NCAA Indoor Championships. This is a young team, and with runners like freshman Brannon Kidder and sophomore Robby Creese, also known as “Creese lightning,”  we can expect to see more outstanding performances in the next several years.

Earlier this month, Coach Bill O'Brien and the 2012 football senior class were honored by the Maxwell Football Club as the Club's College Coach of the Year and Spirit Award recipients, respectively. You’ll be able to get a first look at this year’s team on Blue-White Weekend, which is set for April 19-21, with kickoff at noon on Saturday. Numerous events will be held during the weekend to showcase our student athletes, including the 2013 NCAA Men's Gymnastics Championships in Rec Hall. In addition, the Penn State baseball, field hockey, men's golf, softball, men's tennis, women's tennis and men's volleyball teams will also be competing at home during Blue-White Weekend.

In development news, we’re making the final push to meet the ambitious $2 billion goal in For the Future: The Campaign for Penn State Students.

We are continuing to stay ahead of schedule for achieving our goal, and we have made significant progress in annual giving over the last year. Penn State staff and students have been particularly supportive in the annual giving effort, and they deserve our sincerest appreciation. The number of alumni donors to the Annual Fund is on pace with last year, and the dollars raised are running 21 percent ahead of last year through the end of February.

The largest single goal of “For the Future” has been to raise money for student scholarships. Already we’ve raised $100 million in scholarship endowments through the Trustee Matching Scholarship Program.  But we’re reaching higher. To provide an additional incentive for giving, we’re now offering an even greater incentive to help students in need.

As of this month, the Trustee Matching Scholarship Program offers a 10 percent annual match for new endowed gifts, doubling the additional funds available for students.

Of note is a recent $2 million gift from Gene and Roz Chaiken. They already have made the dreams of a Penn State education possible for more than 150 liberal arts students through a Trustee Scholarship they created 5 years ago. But with growing financial challenges facing students and their families, the Chaikens decided to establish one of the first Trustee Scholarships to earn a 10 percent annual match from the University.

Gene and Roz have been active volunteers and lead donors to the College of the Liberal Arts and Penn State for many years. Gene served on the Penn State Board of Trustees for several years and is a member of the University’s Leadership Gifts Committee and an emeritus member of the Liberal Arts Development Council.

Now I’ll be happy to take your questions.

Last Updated March 15, 2013