Barron outlines framework for measuring excellence across strategic plan

May 04, 2018

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Penn State President Eric J. Barron outlined the University’s framework for measuring institutional excellence to the Board of Trustees at its Friday (May 4) meeting. Barron noted that the University continues to make significant progress when taking into account a variety of institutional metrics, such as enrollments, fundraising, and rankings, as well as each of the six foundations of Penn State’s Strategic Plan.  

According to Barron, Penn State is in the process of developing categories of institutional metrics to use to assess the performance and success of the University, promote transparency, and identify trends for use by Penn State leaders, trustees and other stakeholders.  

“Penn State continues to see positive results as we implement our Strategic Plan. Assessing our performance in certain key areas is essential to our ability to inform long-term decision making, institutional priorities and strategic vision, as we continue to offer the highest quality educational opportunities for students,” Barron said. “We’re putting a strong focus on identifying the appropriate balance between quantitative and qualitative data, as well as on finding innovative ways to analyze and report on the huge amount of institutional metrics and data available.” 

As an evolving process with a spectrum of more than 100 categories of metrics from which to choose, Barron shared the following examples, which highlight the University’s progress in key areas: 

  • Enrollments: Undergraduate and graduate student enrollment remain steady at Penn State’s campuses, while online enrollments have risen within Penn State World Campus.  

  • Financial stability: For the second year, Moody’s Investor Services recognized Penn State’s strong finances, maintaining the University’s positive Aa1 rating with a stable outlook. The credit firm cited the University’s more than $6 billion in operating revenue, growing endowments and responsible stewardship of financial resources.    

  • Fundraising: The University continues to see success in the second year of “A Greater Penn State for 21st Century Excellence,” a University-wide philanthropic effort to raise $1.6 billion by 2021. With 36 percent of the campaign elapsed to date, the University has raised 41.2 percent of the campaign goal. Barron said 2017 is the third year in Penn State’s history that more than $300 million has been raised.  

  • Research: Penn State’s research expenditures reached a record high of $863 million for the 2016-2017 fiscal year, with $534 million coming from federal funds and $329 million from a combination of University, industry and state sources. 

  • Rankings: The University continues to be a leader in higher education and is considered to be in the top 1 percent of universities in the world by Academic Rankings of World Universities. In 2018, Penn State has received high rankings for online degree programs, graduate programs, global engagement and military programs, among many others, as recognized by a variety of outside organizations and publications.  

Barron said the University’s approach is to group identified metrics around strategic goals and foundational areas of the Strategic Plan. The six foundations — access and affordability, student engagement, diversity and inclusion, global engagement, economic development and sustainability — are cornerstones of the University’s teaching, research and service mission and are woven throughout the Strategic Plan as priorities for all members of the Penn State community.   

Barron shared the following examples of metrics used to measure institutional excellence across the six foundations:   

  • The number of Invent Penn State’s LaunchBoxes across the state has grown to 21, as students, faculty and staff continue to be engaged in entrepreneurial activities. In total, more than 80 new products have been developed, 79 startups launched and 110 student internships created.  

  • Penn State’s actual six-year graduation rates are consistently higher than those predicted annually by U.S. News and World Report. In addition, average debt at graduation decreased in 2016-17 for both Pennsylvania and out-of-state students, while year after year between 19 percent and 20 percent of all Pennsylvania high school graduates apply to Penn State, and between 46 percent and 48 percent of those students choose to attend the University.  

  • Along with course section size, number of paid alumni association members and average attendance at athletic events, Barron said the student-to-faculty ratio, which has been steady at 14.6 at University Park since 2015, are all important measures of student and community engagement.  

  • The percentages of minority faculty, staff and administrators at Penn State have seen stable increases over the past decade with a recent upward trend. In addition, students’ self-reported sense of safety and belonging are high compared with national numbers.  

  • The draw of international students to Penn State has been strong for more than a decade, according to Barron. And with more than 300 study abroad programs in approximately 50 countries, and more than 2,000 students studying abroad annually, the University ranks 18th in leading institutions by Study Abroad Total.  

  • Penn State has reduced greenhouse gas emissions by 18 percent since 2005, with ongoing programs helping to save or avoid energy costs in excess of $62 million since 2003. The University now has more than 260 courses, 39 majors, 20 minors and 25 World Campus degree programs with a sustainability focus, and is recognized as a “green college” by the Princeton Review.   

“We’re excelling in so many areas as reflected by high retention and graduation rates of our students, robust finances, growing endowments, entrepreneurial and sustainability initiatives, and many other factors,” Barron said. “We’re finding the best ways to measure how we’re doing and to be transparent in these findings. This is an evolving process, and one that I hope will help our University continue to see positive results as we implement our Strategic Plan.”  

To take a look at President Barron’s full presentation, visit   


Last Updated May 04, 2018