UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. – A task force created in July 2017 to study the affordability of a Penn State degree has been exploring ways to control costs and enhance revenue, while maintaining and enhancing quality. Leaders of the effort, from the University’s Board of Trustees and administration, have enlisted a consulting group to identify potential opportunities to keep a Penn State degree within financial reach of qualified students.
Huron Consulting Group, a firm with headquarters in Chicago, has been part of previous financial exploration projects at Penn State. Huron was chosen for this review based on its collaborative approach and extensive experience advising higher education institutions. In the past, Huron has worked with the universities of Wyoming, Minnesota and Wisconsin, and Kansas State University, to name a few. As consultants to Penn State, Huron will help review major cost and revenue drivers, recommend new or underused sources of revenue and cost control opportunities, and benchmark best practices across higher education.
“A primary focus of the board has always been on the overall cost of a Penn State education and maintaining affordability for students and their families,” said Trustee Matt Schuyler, chair of the task force. “Penn State, like other public universities, uses a mix of revenue sources to subsidize the cost of education of students, but those sources have dwindled, leaving tuition to cover the shortfall. We remain committed to continuing to investigate new sources of revenue, as well as tighter cost controls, so that students are not deterred from investing in their futures.”
Since joining Penn State as its president in 2014, Eric Barron has made access and affordability one of his six key imperatives. He has provided several presentations to the Board of Trustees, and both the board and administration have worked to keep tuition increases flat or as low as possible for Pennsylvania resident undergraduates. Among Penn State’s targeted initiatives in this vein are the Pathway to Success Summer Start Program, a work-study-scholarship program designed to increase student retention; the Student Transition Experiences (STEP) program, whose focus is keeping students on schedule as they transition to the University Park campus from a Commonwealth Campus; and the establishment of the Sokolov-Miller Family Financial and Life Skills Center.
As part of the task force’s work over the past year, units across Penn State have been collecting data and information for a comprehensive review of both expenditures and revenue opportunities. With this foundational work completed, Huron will now meet with University leaders for additional review, as well as an analysis of cost and revenue structures, financial commitments and academic efficiency, and will provide recommendations.
“Penn State’s core mission as a land-grant institution is to keep education accessible and affordable, while ensuring a pathway of success for our students,” said Nick Jones, executive vice president and provost, as well as co-lead on the work to be done with Huron. “Affordability is an ongoing critical conversation, but it must also be discussed in the context of quality of a degree and the value of education. Looking at the cost of education, as well as careful consideration of program quality is a complex undertaking, and an expert and objective analysis of this nature is critical to maintaining that vital balance.”
A report from Huron is expected to be delivered in July for consideration by the board and administrators.