On Thursday, October 6, 2011, Rodney Erickson, Executive Vice President and Provost of the Pennsylvania State University, talked with more than 190 attendees across multiple campuses about strategic planning and the work of the Academic Program and Administrative Services Review Core Council over the last year and a half. He shared his thoughts on the changing financial landscape in higher education, the need for more strategic decision-making by all units, and the Core Council’s progress to date.
Erickson started the discussion by describing the changing financial landscape for higher education at both the state and federal levels. Due to the economic crisis, state budget shortfalls have had a significant negative impact on funding for higher education. Reductions in available discretionary funds at the federal level have also played a part. Additionally, Erickson suggested that there has been a general ratcheting down of public support for higher education with a shift in perspective from it being a public good to more of a private individual investment.
Erickson reviewed Penn State’s situation. Although the University had managed to weather the most recent cuts in state appropriations and the loss of stimulus funds in the last year, an examination of past state funding levels and the aforementioned political changes suggest that the University might be set for even more lean years. If state appropriations remain flat or decline further, tuition and fees will need to rise to provide the funds necessary to maintain academic quality, but these increases need to remain modest in order to preserve access for students.
State appropriations have been on the decline since 1971-72; Penn State has enacted budget reductions and reallocations since 1992-93. This has resulted in reallocations totaling $233 million. Erickson explained that while this has helped the University to focus on supporting strategically important areas, more needs to be done to address these challenges.
Goal 2 of the University’s strategic plan, Advance Academic Excellence and Research Prominence, includes Strategy 2.4: Consolidate Academic and Administrative Programs through Targeted Reviews. Erickson explained that this strategy was enacted to improve quality and increase efficiency in the battle against rising costs. To that end, the Academic Program and Administrative Services Review Core Council (often shortened to “Core Council”) was created about 18 months ago to better organize these efforts. Comprised of 13 individuals, the Core Council has worked with three coordinating committees to conduct what is arguably the most comprehensive review of programs and services of its kind at the University.
This has been a long process. It’s been, in many cases, a difficult and stressful process, but looking back, it’s one that I’m glad the University has taken on.
Erickson described how the Core Council and three committees, the University Park Academic Review Coordinating Committee, the Campus Academic Review Coordinating Committee, and the Academic and Administrative Services Review Coordinating Committee, each including faculty and staff from across the University, worked with each college, campus, and service unit to identify opportunities for organizational efficiencies and cost savings. These included recommendations for the elimination or merger of programs and departments, greater sharing of personnel and infrastructure across units and locations, the repositioning of continuing education, reviews of faculty and staff benefits, and the implementation of energy saving initiatives. Opportunities for revenue enhancement were also discussed, including offering additional World Campus programming, improving Summer Session scheduling, and developing integrated undergraduate and graduate programs, among others.
Erickson concluded his presentation by talking about future Core Council activities. He then opened the discussion up to the audience. A number of questions were asked on topics such as how the Core Council communicated with the colleges and campuses, staff reductions, and the impacts the World Campus may have on campus enrollments.
View the PowerPoint slides from the presentation.
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