Faculty Senate examines curricular coherence in support of One Penn State 2025

December 19, 2019

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- The Penn State Faculty Senate continued its work in support of One Penn State 2025 at its Dec. 3 meeting with a lively discussion on curricular coherence, one the guiding principles behind this University-wide guiding framework.

Faculty Senate Chair Nicholas Rowland has identified supporting One Penn State 2025 — one of the signature initiatives of the Penn State Strategic Plan —as a key goal of the senate’s work this academic year. One Penn State 2025 has five guiding principles, one of which is to “achieve curricular coherence” by designing academic programs that are easily accessible and navigable for students while offering both flexibility and strong disciplinary and interdisciplinary communities.

The senate held an open discussion on this guiding principle, with multiple senators expressing their belief in the importance of flexibility of academic programs to best serve students and the need to avoid “academic rigidity.” Other senators shared their belief that maintaining flexibility was important for students who complete their education across multiple campuses.

Senators also expressed their support for the goal of curricular coherence, noting that students who attended multiple campuses benefit both from the flexibility to do so and a coherent curriculum across campuses, ensuring a consistency of academic degrees received across locations, including both Commonwealth Campuses and World Campus. The student senator representing the University Park Undergraduate Association also said the curricular coherence is especially important from an advising perspective, as directives from advisers often have a major impact on students’ paths of study.

The Senate Committee on Curricular Affairs will compile the feedback from Faculty Senate to shape its ongoing work in partnership with University administration in support of One Penn State 2025.

Updates from University leadership

Penn State President Eric Barron addressed the senate on what he identified as “the looming enrollment crisis,” a point in time predicted by some higher education professionals in which the total number of college-bound students will decrease and cause significant budgetary concerns for universities in the United States.

Barron discussed several of the challenges that are specific to Penn State, such as the shifting demographic makeup of Pennsylvania students and a forecasted decrease in expected Pennsylvania high school graduates in the coming years. But while some smaller institutions may face difficulties from these factors, Barron remained confident in the University’s resiliency and the quality of a Penn State education.

“There are three things that make a tremendous difference: the brand of the institution, selectivity and quality, and financial stability,” Barron said. “If you can deliver on those three things, you are still going to draw those students.”

In addition to Penn State delivering on all three of those factors, Barron said the University has taken a multifaceted approach to prepare for potential enrollment challenges. This includes efforts to improve retention rates, strategically targeting states with projected population growths, launching a pilot program to expand in-state tuition to certain students in neighboring states and implementing strategic budgeting and planning models that account for future trends in enrollment and tuition.

The Senate also received two updates from Executive Vice President and Provost Nick Jones on the University’s Strategic Plan and 2019-20 budget.

Jones noted that the Strategic Plan has seen noteworthy successes, supporting the University to add five years to extend the plan’s lifecycle through 2025. In addition to the ongoing work surrounding One Penn State 2025, Jones also shared that seed grant funding for faculty proposals has been a major success of the plan – with more than $9 million in funding awarded across 43 initiatives over the past two years. Additional signature initiatives of the plan include the Consortium to Combat Substance Abuse, the Humanities Institute and the Center for Immersive Experiences.

On the topic of the University’s budget, Jones noted that the University is implementing broad changes to Penn State’s budget model to make the process more modern, transparent and efficient. He also gave a detailed breakdown of the University’s 2019-20 budget, which totals roughly $6.8 billion.

Other business                                                                                                                                             

The senate also:

  • Passed a revision to the University’s policy on emeritus faculty;
  • Approved a new University email policy developed with Penn State Information Technology, the Office of General Counsel and the Office of Information Security;
  • Received an annual report updating the senate on changes to employee benefits; and,
  • Received a report from Penn State Chief Information Security Officer Donald Welch on ongoing efforts to modernize the University’s information technology infrastructure.

The next meeting of the Penn State Faculty Senate will be held at 1 p.m. on Jan. 28 in 102 Kern Graduate Building at the University Park campus.


Last Updated December 19, 2019