Penn State president addresses Pennsylvania Senate Appropriations Committee

President Barron discusses importance of state funding to key priorities related to access and affordability, economic development and student career success

State appropriations help Penn State to carry out its land-grant mission of teaching, research and service on behalf of Pennsylvanians. Credit: Chris Koleno / Penn StateCreative Commons

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Penn State President Eric J. Barron discussed the importance of the University’s state appropriation and the significant positive impact it has on students, families and communities across the commonwealth during the Pennsylvania Senate Appropriations Committee hearing on Tuesday morning, April 6.

As Pennsylvania’s sole land-grant institution, Penn State carries out its mission of teaching, research and service to Pennsylvanians in partnership with the commonwealth, and Barron said that the state’s support is more critical than ever in helping the University to see that mission through in the midst of the unprecedented uncertainty of the global pandemic.

“We recognize the unique fiscal realities faced by the commonwealth, particularly in this challenging time in which resources must be allocated to contain and respond to the COVID-19 pandemic,” Barron said. “We are very grateful for the appropriation increases awarded in recent years and for level funding in the current fiscal year that were made possible through the efforts of Gov. Wolf and the General Assembly. Continued investment in Penn State would enable the University to remain a critical partner in ensuring resilience and economic growth across the commonwealth.”

Joining Barron for the virtual hearing were the leaders of Pennsylvania’s three other state-related universities — the University of Pittsburgh and Temple and Lincoln universities. Previously, Barron and the other university leaders appeared before the House Appropriations Committee on Feb. 24.

In his remarks to the committee, Barron emphasized the importance of the state appropriation in enabling Penn State to set an in-state tuition rate that benefits thousands of Pennsylvania students and their families across all campuses, which serve some of the most economically challenged regions of the commonwealth. State support also allows Penn State to invest in the excellence of its academic programs, helping to attract Pennsylvania’s top students and prepare them for successful careers after graduation, and aids the University’s efforts to drive innovation, economic development and job growth in communities across the state through the Invent Penn State initiative.

“The state appropriation is critical to helping us attract and retain the type of students that will stay in the state to complete their studies and will then choose to remain here and help Pennsylvania prosper,” said Barron. “With 54,500 Pennsylvania resident students across 24 campuses and a World Campus, Penn State has the capacity that no other university in the state can match. Penn State is a valuable asset to the commonwealth that provides a great return on investment.”

Examples of the benefits provided by state support include:

— Penn State more than doubles the per-student investment provided by the appropriation, saving Pennsylvania resident students on average $12,000 annually through in-state tuition.

— Approximately 24,000 new Penn State graduates enter the workforce each year, and most make Pennsylvania their home. In fact, more than half of all Penn State alumni live in Pennsylvania, and one in 12 Pennsylvanians with a college degree graduated from Penn State.

— A 2019 study found that Penn State contributes more than $11.6 billion to Pennsylvania’s economy and supported, both directly and indirectly, more than 105,000 jobs statewide in 2017.

— With the help of increased state support, Penn State has frozen in-state tuition in four of the past six years, including for the last three years in a row. Barron pointed out that many of the students who will graduate this spring have not experienced a tuition increase since entering the University, and, when adjusted for inflation, students are paying comparatively less for a degree today than they did five years ago. These efforts to control tuition costs have resulted in Penn State ranking seventh among the 36 public members of the Association of American Universities for the smallest overall increase in in-state tuition over the last 10 years.

State appropriations also support Penn State Agricultural Research and Extension operations that solve challenges, serve the agriculture industry, and deliver scientific-based information and programming to people, businesses and communities in all 67 Pennsylvania counties; provide important funding for Pennsylvania College of Technology in Williamsport, a special mission affiliate of Penn State that is a national leader in hands-on, applied technology education; and enhance Pennsylvanians’ access to quality health care through the Penn State Health enterprise and College of Medicine.

Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf’s proposed 2021-22 state budget calls for Penn State’s overall state appropriation to remain level for the next fiscal year. The University has requested a total appropriation of $353.1 million for fiscal year 2021-22, representing a 4.2% increase over the current year’s $338.9 million, to continue the institution’s focus on access and affordability, agricultural research, job creation and economic development, and student career success.

Other highlights from the hearing include:

— In discussing the toll the COVID-19 pandemic has had on Penn State, Barron noted that the University’s pandemic-related economic impact now exceeds $400 million. However, he said that Penn State is viewing the pandemic as an event rather than as a long-term impact, and the University is working incredibly hard to keep its workforce employed and lessen the pandemic’s impact on employees.

— Barron addressed questions from the senators about issues of diversity and race, particularly related to the composition of Penn State’s faculty and student bodies. Barron emphasized the University’s focus on and commitment to diversity and inclusion in all areas, and indicated that strides have been made in increasing the diversity of the University administration and its students over the last 10 years, but he said that more needs to be done to increase the hiring of Black faculty. Barron stressed that faculty members are a vital partner in the University’s efforts to increase the diversity of the faculty ranks. They ensure that we hire experts in their fields. But together we must make sure that the candidate pools are diverse, that we are thinking comprehensively about the potential contributions of each candidate, that resources are available to incentivize hiring, and that we minimize bias in our decisions. 

— Barron underscored Penn State’s efforts to help students graduate on time and with less debt, pointing to the success of access and affordability programs such as the Pathway to Success: Summer Start program, which provides students with a scholarship to take summer classes while earning additional money through on-campus employment; the Student Transitional Experiences Program, which offers financial, mentoring and networking support for students transitioning to University Park from a Commonwealth Campus; the program, which allows students to earn college credits and scholarship support while in high school; and Complete Penn State, which is helping students with high GPAs and credit counts overcome struggles so they can complete their education. Penn State also has made student scholarship support a priority in its current fundraising campaign, Barron said, and programs such as Open Doors Scholarships, Equity Scholarships, Provost and Chancellor Awards, and Discover Awards are helping high-achieving students overcome financial obstacles to earn their degree. “We’re doing more and more to make sure students finish in four years,” Barron said. “The biggest increase in student debt occurs when a student goes to years five and six.”

— Barron talked about the role Penn State plays as an economic driver for the commonwealth and how the University’s economic development and entrepreneurial programs can help businesses grow and flourish in Pennsylvania and keep talented young people from leaving the state. Penn State has developed 21 LaunchBoxes and Innovation Hubs that are serving communities statewide and helping to transfer new ideas and technology into Pennsylvania companies. These hubs are community resources — 96% of Pennsylvanians live within 30 miles of a hub — and provide an array of no-cost business startup support, including legal services, intellectual property advice, co-working space, and business bootcamp and accelerator programs. “Our mission is to serve the commonwealth, and we do that through agricultural extension, which is famous around the country at Penn State, and we want to do the same thing for economic development extension,” Barron said.

— On the research side, Barron said that Penn State’s research expenditures, which topped $1 billion in 2019-20, include more than $600 million in federal funding that has been brought into Pennsylvania and is benefiting the state’s economy. “We also have created very innovative ways in which we share intellectual property with corporations that provide funding as a part of that $1 billion in expenditures,” Barron said. “This is a factor that puts Penn State in the upper echelon of universities with corporate grants and contracts.”

Barron emphasized to the committee the value of Penn State’s partnership with the commonwealth, and how the University and state can continue to work together for the long-term benefit of all Pennsylvanians.

“The state appropriation is absolutely essential for keeping costs for Pennsylvania students affordable,” Barron said. “Through the state’s support we also can become an even greater economic engine and help increase the number of students who will stay within our borders and increase opportunity in the state of Pennsylvania.”

Penn State’s appropriation will be finalized later this summer, as lawmakers must agree upon and present a 2021-22 state budget to the governor for his signature by the end of the current fiscal year on June 30.

Last Updated April 07, 2021