Board of Trustees meets; President Erickson's remarks

November 22, 2013

Penn State President Rodney Erickson delivered the following remarks during the regular meeting of the Board of Trustees, held Nov. 22 at The Penn Stater Conference Center Hotel on the University Park campus.

Good afternoon. As Keith mentioned, we have a very tight schedule this afternoon, so I’ll keep my remarks brief. However, there’s always time for a little good news.

First, Moody’s gave Penn State’s bond credit outlook a boost by revising the outlook from stable to positive. Moody’s cited Penn State’s "rapid and effectively executed improvements to its governance, best practices and management over the past year."

The Aa2 rating with a positive outlook reflects a high-quality credit profile, as well as Penn State’s significant liquidity, limited financial leverage, and rapid response to challenges over the last year. The rating agency's report also referenced the resolution of most of the settlement claims with the victims of Jerry Sandusky in its rationale for revising the outlook.

Moody's predicts that Penn State will be able to improve its already solid credit fundamentals. Additional factors that contributed to the positive outlook included the expectation that Penn State's performance and operating margin will continue to strengthen.

From all indications, prospective students and their families are equally positive about Penn State’s future. This fall we have seen a sharp rise in the number of applications for admission compared to last year. Undergraduate applications for summer/fall 2014 are up 16 percent overall; including an increase of 18 percent for baccalaureate applications to University Park and 12 percent for the Commonwealth Campuses. Out-of-state applications are up 30 percent at University Park and 9 percent at the campuses. 

A particularly bright spot is in minority applications, which are up 21 percent at University Park and 14 percent at the campuses. Graduate applications are up 10 percent compared to last year. Details of the admission and enrollments outcomes for the current year will be presented later this afternoon.

With the number of international applications continuing to grow at double-digit rates, Penn State has become a destination of choice for international students. According to the Institute of International Education’s annual “Open Doors” report, Penn State is one of the top 10 universities for international students.  Last year we had a record number of international students — nearly 7,000 at University Park — which puts us 10th in the nation and first among colleges and universities in Pennsylvania in international student enrollment. Attracting international students is just one of the ways we continue to strengthen our worldwide reach, while helping our students prepare for the new global economy.

On Veterans Day, U.S. News and World Report released its "Best Colleges for Veterans" rankings. Penn State's University Park campus was ranked No. 1 among national universities. U.S. News cited the University's military veterans’ new benefit of priority registration for classes, as well as the University's Office of Veterans Programs assistance with benefits, enrollment and career services.

On a related note, we dedicated Penn State’s Clearinghouse on Military Family Readiness last month. This center focuses on enhancing the health and well-being of military families and is a natural extension of our strong connection to the U.S. military services. In addition, Penn State’s leadership in translational and implementation research provides an ideal platform for supporting the unique needs of military families. We’re very pleased to provide this important service.

We recently received the numbers for research activity last fiscal year, and we had another record total – more than $848 million in total research expenditures; a 5 percent increase over the previous year. Consider that 10 years ago research expenditures were $545 million; and 15 years ago expenditures were less than half of what they are today.

In terms of new awards for research received since July 1, we are tracking right on last year’s total-to-date despite the effects of sequestration and the uncertainties of funding in the FY14 federal budget. This is a remarkable achievement, and it’s due to the outstanding efforts of our talented faculty, staff and students.

Penn State also has an outstanding record when it comes to Fulbright awards, which is the U.S. government’s flagship program in international educational exchange. This year, 11 Penn State students and five faculty members won Fulbright awards. Penn State is consistently one of the leading producers of U.S. Fulbright Scholars in the large research university division.

Joining our community of scholars, researchers and teachers will be a new dean for the College of Engineering, pending board approval. Amr Salah Elnashai has served as the head of the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. He is an internationally renowned engineer and educational leader, and I’ll provide more details about his accomplishments during the meeting of the Committee on Academic Affairs and Student Life.

Moving on to athletics. Penn State student-athletes continue to achieve record-setting academic performances, according to statistical information recently released by the NCAA. Penn State student-athletes at University Park earned a Graduation Success Rate of 88 percent compared to the 81 percent average for all Division I institutions.

The Nittany Lion basketball team and the Lady Lion basketball team both earned perfect Graduation Success Rates (GSR) of 100 percent. The Penn State football team posted a GSR of 85 percent. All three programs delivered graduation figures at least 15 points higher than the national average for their sport.

On the field, Penn State student-athletes are also seeing success. Penn State’s field hockey team and men’s soccer team have both won their second consecutive Big Ten Championship and will go on to compete in the NCAA championship tournaments in their respective sports. The women’s soccer team also was selected to compete in their NCAA tournament. In addition, the women’s volleyball team is in first place, with just four matches to go in the regular season.

It has been nearly two decades since the men’s basketball team competed in Rec Hall, but they’ll be back on Dec. 14 for what is sure to be a thrilling game with Princeton University. Starting point guard Tim Frazier is leading the team in scoring, playing with an exciting and ambitious group of young players. I hope lots of fans will come out and cheer them on.

Philanthropy is continuing at a strong pace as we round the corner on For the Future: The Campaign for Penn State Students. To date we have raised more than $1.92 billion – that’s 96 percent of our campaign objective with 92 percent of time elapsed. Last year, more than 193,000 donors — the largest number in our history — made gifts to the University.

Alumni contributions were up 23 percent over the prior year, and faculty and staff have contributed more than $56 million to the campaign, that’s $13 million above the original goal.

Kay Kustanbauter is one such member of the Penn State family, and it was a pleasure to recognize her as our 2013 Renaissance Fund honoree. Kay worked for more than 40 years at Penn State, beginning as a staff assistant and retiring as the executive director of the Nittany Lion Club. Along the way, she made countless friends and transformed the development efforts in Intercollegiate Athletics, inspiring generations of Penn Staters. Kay led by example, supporting many scholarships, building projects and other initiatives. It’s gratifying when those who know us best support our institution with such enthusiasm.

Through the generosity and vision of our donors, Penn State has been able to provide countless opportunities for our students, faculty and staff. One month ago, we dedicated the Pegula Ice Arena, which you’ll hear more about during (Associate Vice President for the Office of Physical Plant) Ford Stryker’s report. I also recently spent the afternoon at Penn State Wilkes-Barre to dedicate the Struthers Family Career Services Building. This new career center will serve 4,500 students from five Penn State campuses, and it will give students a critical advantage in their search for a satisfying career and bright future.

Helping Penn State students prepare for “the real world” has been furthered by the strong support of corporate leaders. At lunch today, we named General Electric our corporate partner of the year in recognition of more than 45 years of generosity and crucial support for our research and educational endeavors.

Notably, nearly 1,300 Penn State alumni currently work at GE, and Penn State is among GE’s top five schools for recruitment. Jeffrey Immelt, chairman of the board and chief executive officer of GE, received the honor on the company’s behalf.

That concludes my remarks. I’ll be happy to take your questions.

Last Updated November 22, 2013