"Implementing Priorities for Excellence: The Penn State Strategic Plan, 2009-10 through 2013-14"

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February 2010

Raodney EricksonHow will the University meet its simultaneous goals of enhancing student success and achieving academic excellence during a period of hard economic times? At the February 26, 2010 Quality Advocates session, Rodney Erickson, Executive Vice President and Provost, shared some of the ways Penn State’s strategic plan is shaping its future.

In the current strategic plan, Priorities for Excellence, Penn State identified seven strategic goals to address in the next five years and recommended thirty-eight strategies to meet these goals. slide1To help ensure that the strategies would be implemented, the University Strategic Planning Council (USPC) took several steps new to the planning process at Penn State. The plan contains a Strategy Implementation Matrix which lists each strategy and the persons responsible for implementation. To better manage resources, timelines were set for starting each strategy, with some starting in the first year, while others begin in later years. Mid-year progress reports were provided to the Provost in January 2010. (Read a summary of the progress).

Goal 7 of the strategic plan specifically addresses cost control and greater efficiency, with the objective of providing for innovative and flexible ways to contain costs and facilitate quality improvement. slide2Work has already begun to address some of the strategies. On the instructional side, areas to target include under-enrolled sections and greater use of classroom and research space. Although Penn State uses its space very well currently, improvements to the class scheduling process have begun and that will result in more efficient use of space. Outreach is under a new budget model and allocations to it have been capped. To address the rising cost of healthcare, a policy has already been implemented to provide new employees with health savings accounts, and steps are being taken to address the health care costs for the 45,000 current and retired employees and their families who are currently covered within Centre County.

There has been considerable progress on implementing other goals in the strategic plan. For Goal 1 – Enhancing Student Success, the Student Transitions Steering Committee and the Undergraduate Education and Student Affairs Committee are looking at the first year experience and the change of campus process for students. Other areas of focus during this first year of the plan have been on providing more research opportunities for undergraduates, assessing learning outcomes for students, increasing global engagement in new areas such as India and the Middle East, and attracting more international students to the University.

Targeted review of programs and services (Strategy 2.4 of the strategic plan) is another way the University is looking for greater efficiencies and cost savings. The Academic Program and Administrative Services Review Core Council has been charged to “see if there are ways in which we can consolidate, ways in which we can make changes that will improve processes in the University, that will provide better and more opportunities for the University, and to really look vertically rather than horizontally”. After eighteen years of budget reductions and reallocations of funding and with continuing national economic issues, Penn State will need to be even more strategic in identifying what priorities will be funded in the future. Penn State is a complex organization, with about 575 different degree programs and 100 research institutes and centers. According to Erickson, “it is hard to support this many different operations”, but the Council will take time for their review and will not rush into any decision-making as it prioritizes for continued excellence.

The Core Council has appointed three coordinating committees. During the first year, most of the identified changes will probably come from the Academic and Administrative Services Review Coordinating Committee. committeesChanges to administrative process are easier to implement since they don’t have to go through as many levels of review. The structure of the committees and council allows for a comprehensive review: chairs of the Coordinating Committees sit on the Core Council and both University Park and Commonwealth Campus representatives are represented on all three Coordinating Committees.

The Committees and Council will be systemic in their review, and determine how changes in one area will affect other areas. Through the Council’s work, Erickson hopes to save $5 to $10 million dollars annually. The Council is interested in both permanent and temporary costs savings, and Erickson stressed that the focus will be on “cost savings, not cost shifting”. In the past, cost shifting may have lead to the decentralization of some services. Erickson gave the example of information technology as an area where decentralization may not have been the most cost-effective strategy. But, not all services need to be centralized: “There needs to be the right kind of balance between what types of things we should best do centrally and the kinds of things that are best done at the local level”.

The Council is using data to inform its decision-making, but Erickson pointed out that other factors come into play. If the Council identifies programs that are not performing well, these programs may be considered for mergers and consolidation, although program closure remains an option to consider, according to Erickson. The review process itself will help encourage a revisiting of the curriculum, may eliminate overlaps and redundancies, and may help identify areas of critical mass, where programs and courses can be offered to a larger number of students, resulting in a better use of resources and quality of programs.

In completing its review, the Council is looking to people across the University for cost-saving ideas. Erickson will be meeting with faculty and staff at several meetings in the future, and suggested that people with recommendations submit your ideas through the Office of Planning and Institutional Assessment.


The Quality Advocates Network meets several times each semester to share ideas and examples of improvement and change. To join the Quality Advocates Network mailing list or to learn more about the meetings scheduled, contact the staff at psupia@psu.edu.

The Quality Advocates Network is open to all Penn State faculty, staff, administrators, and students.