Penn State achieves high academic standards, while spending less than peers

August 08, 2016

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — At the last Penn State Board of Trustees meeting in late July, President Eric Barron reviewed how the University’s productivity and excellence as an academic institution compare with its peers, noting that Penn State achieves high academic standards across a number of categories while spending less than many peers. 

“Penn State delivers great quality for the investment we have,” Barron said. “The University is very efficient at delivering quality, and quality is what helps our students to be successful.”

Reviewing how Penn State compares with other Universities nationally and in Pennsylvania across a number of metrics, Barron noted that the University achieves high academic rankings even as it works with limited financial resources. The University is tied for 13th among public institutions in U.S. News & World Report’s rankings and is 47th overall. But, it is much lower when it comes to faculty resources — how much of an investment the University is capable of making — with a ranking of 102 among universities.

“This tells you that Penn State delivers great quality for the investment we have,” he said.

That investment is seen in measurements of student-faculty ratio, graduation rates, class sizes, research expenditures, rankings of academic programs and the achievements of programs, faculty and students. Among the University’s accomplishments:

— Average faculty salaries at Penn State are ranked 13th for full professors in the Association of American Universities (AAU). Penn State’s membership in the AAU, which is highly selective, is in itself an indication of the University’s high standards.

“We know that having great people as part of the University contributes to a great education and the successful outcomes that occur even if you don’t have quite as much money as your peers,” Barron said.

— Penn State also achieves excellence when it comes to faculty in the classrooms. At University Park, Penn State is tied for ninth among AAU public universities when it comes to student-faculty ratios. More than 65 percent of classes have fewer than 30 students, Barron noted. The University is tied for percentage of classes with fewer than 50 students in 2015-16 among public AAU universities with enrollment above 45,000.

“What it says is we haven’t scrimped in making sure we have a faculty that’s appropriate for the size of our student body,” Barron said.

— The University has a graduation rate of 86 percent, a strong indication, Barron said, that Penn State is investing its dollars in the right place.

— For the sixth year in a row, research expenditures topped $800 million. Individual research programs stand out in their fields as well. Ten disciplines rank in the top 10 for science and engineering research expenditures of the National Science Foundation.

— Many Penn State doctoral programs — including anthropology, sociology, geosciences, Spanish, human development and family studies and political science — are ranked within the top 10 percent in their field when it comes to faculty research activity, according to National Research Council rankings in 2010.

— Undergraduate students are part of the research enterprise as well. In the past five years, nearly 8,000 students completed an undergraduate research course before graduating.

— Penn State faculty spend more time working directly with students than faculty do, on average, at state and state-related institutions in Pennsylvania. In turn, they spend less time on committees and other bureaucratic activities.

“We have the most balanced portfolio of research, instructional support and student contact in the state,” Barron said. “I think that’s something of which we can be extremely proud.”

— Individual programs at University Park and across the Commonwealth receive high rankings as well. Penn State’s online iMBA degree and online graduate business programs, administered at Penn State Behrend, were ranked seventh in the nation by U.S. News & World Report.

“We have faculty doing more with less. This is indicated by the fact we are top 50 in terms of quality, but we are not even top 100 in terms of our faculty resource ranking,” Barron said.

“We are excelling in teaching, as reflected by an absolutely outstanding retention and graduation rate and rates that far exceed what is predicted based on our population of students. We excel in research, well above average for AAU universities, which are the top 62 research universities in the country. We work hard to spend money where it counts, to maintain excellent faculty and to maintain an excellent student-faculty ratio.”

For a look at the president's full presentation, visit:

Last Updated August 08, 2016