At a meeting of the Board of Trustees on Feb. 19, Penn State President Eric J. Barron shared top University accomplishments and the key priorities he plans to focus on through the remainder of his tenure during the next 16 months. In confirming his plans to retire as the University’s 18th president at the conclusion of his current contract in June 2022, Barron is allowing time for the Board of Trustees to move forward with succession planning.
In March, the Board will begin a phased approach to select a new president, following Barron’s retirement, which will kick off with a listening process to engage and solicit input from key stakeholders, including faculty, staff and students, on the qualities and type of future leader needed.
“President Barron’s outstanding leadership and support for the ongoing success of our students, faculty and staff have helped make a great public university even greater. I hope the University community will share the Board of Trustees’ commitment to continued success as we work to accomplish President Barron’s priorities for the coming months,” said Board of Trustees Chair Matt Schuyler. “President Barron’s stable guidance, successful management of critical challenges, and drive to innovate will have a lasting impact and have prepared Penn State to lead the future of public higher education. As we look toward the future, the University is well-positioned for our next leader.”
Barron was appointed president of Penn State in 2014, returning to the University where he previously spent 20 years, including serving as dean of the College of Earth and Mineral Sciences.
At the start of his presidency, Barron mapped out six presidential imperatives to be a modern university in the areas of excellence, access and affordability, economic development and student career success, student engagement, diversity and demographics, and technology and curriculum delivery. For more than six years, despite challenges like COVID-19, he has championed these initiatives with support from faculty, staff and students across Penn State’s campuses.
The imperatives he mapped have served as a lens to examine the state of the University and as the basis for defining broad, long-term planning, according to Barron.
Under Barron’s presidency, Penn State has tackled access and affordability, student success, and diversity and inclusion, along with leading a philanthropic campaign with a focus on opening doors for students financially, creating transformative educational experiences, and impacting the world. There have been ongoing cost-savings efforts to save millions annually and through various initiatives the University has invested resources in fostering economic development and job creation across Pennsylvania. The University has implemented a strategic plan that provides a vision for Penn State’s future and for achieving goals in areas such as transforming education, enhancing health, stewarding resources, advancing the arts and humanities, and driving digital innovation. Over the past year, Barron has led the University through the COVID-19 pandemic with a focus on protecting the health and safety of the University community and preparing for the future.
“It has been my greatest professional honor to serve as president of Penn State and to be able to collaborate with and learn from our amazing faculty, staff and students every day. Together, we have elevated Penn State as a leader in higher education poised to meet the future and to attract the best and brightest students,” Barron said. “In the next 16 months, even as we continue to weather the challenges of the pandemic as a community, we cannot pause in our efforts to provide the highest quality education, contribute knowledge to society, and support Pennsylvania communities, the nation and world.”
At the meeting, Barron provided an overview of key achievements and highlighted his top priorities and goals — stemming from his strategic imperatives — for the next 16 months:
Penn State continues to make significant progress in key areas of excellence, including enrollment, fundraising and research, as well as each of the foundations of Penn State’s Strategic Plan. In 2021, Penn State is ranked in the top 1% of universities in the world, is recognized in the top five universities where corporations recruit, and 18 research fields have ranked in the top 10 — more than any other university. Penn State has received record-breaking applications and has seen strong enrollment demand among undergraduate and graduate students across its campuses.
Along with five years of increases in research expenditures — four record-setting years in a row — that exceeded $1 billion for the first time in 2019-20, the University also has reached record fundraising highs for three consecutive years as part of “A Greater Penn State for 21st Century Excellence” campaign. In addition to successful cost and tuition controls, Penn State continues to receive strong bond ratings and recognition for stability and responsible stewardship of financial resources, even as higher education overall experiences ongoing uncertainty due to the pandemic.
Goals for 2022:
- Raise $2.1 billion in philanthropy in six years (by June 30, 2022).
- Continue to renew the University’s physical plant, in partnership with the state of Pennsylvania, particularly for STEM and arts and humanities facilities.
- Continue investment in themes that impact the world, including advancing the health sciences and moving forward with the energy taskforce.
Access and affordability
Penn State is committed to providing qualified students of all backgrounds with an accessible and affordable high-quality education. The University has implemented targeted scholarship and award programs — such as Open Doors Scholarship Programs, Equity Scholarships and Discover Awards — that reach students beginning as early as high school and continue through graduation. The University’s approach has focused on helping students to borrow less, manage debt, graduate on time, and build financial skills while preparing for future careers. Directed scholarships and programs that lower time to a degree are the most impactful in controlling the cost of a degree and student debt. Along with longstanding efforts to control and monitor costs, the University also has accomplished multiple years of tuition freezes for in-state students.
Goals for 2022:
- Achieve the Open Doors fundraising goal of $740 million.
- Undertake a comprehensive assessment of all programs to determine impact on student debt and completion rates.
- Focus on food and housing security for students.
Economic development and student career success
As a land-grant institution in service to society, the University has focused on advancing statewide economic development and providing career services to help students find jobs. Among its economic development initiatives, the University launched and has grown Invent Penn State, a network of 21 LaunchBoxes and Innovation Hubs across Pennsylvania. Since its creation, Invent Penn State has engaged 10,759 students and faculty, supported 3,325 entrepreneurs, graduated 345 startups from accelerator programs, completed 247 product development projects, helped start 164 new Pennsylvania companies, created 433 internships, and led to $13.9 million in external and leveraged funds.
As a national leader among large universities for collaboratively managing career services, Penn State offers comprehensive services and is ranked fifth in the nation, tied with MIT. In 2018, Penn State launched a single, integrated career enterprise system for the 37 career units across the University, which enables all students, alumni and employers to post and view career opportunities. Over the past three years, Career Services has hosted 70 career fairs with participation by 4,500 employers and 33,000 students and alumni, 40,000 career coaching sessions, and 2,000 career workshops. During the pandemic, Career Services has offered an array of virtual programs and resources, including 79 virtual recruiting events resulting in more than 48,000 virtual interviews.
Goals for 2022:
- Seek funding from the state for Invent Penn State.
- Complete a comprehensive analysis of Invent Penn State to evaluate successes and advance the programs across the Commonwealth.
- Complete the expansion of the Innovation Hub (formerly James Building) at University Park.
Penn State has focused on providing transformative out-of-classroom engagement to support students’ academic and social development and to help them prepare them for life after graduation. Penn State launched the Student Engagement Network to connect students with experiences that empower them to make a positive impact as citizens and future leaders. As part of this effort, students can access these resources online, through a mobile platform, on site in the HUB-Robeson Center at University Park, and at physical spaces at all Commonwealth Campus locations. The Student Engagement Network has awarded more than $1 million to 1,000 students from all economic backgrounds to participate in out-of-classroom learning opportunities.
Goals for 2022:
- Expand the Engagement Grant Program to seed student engagement.
- Increase engagement in recognized student organizations and the leadership, service and civic opportunities they create.
- Continue growth in undergraduate research and study abroad.
- Enhance collaboration between Student Affairs and academic colleges to promote engagement and enrich opportunities.
- Train and deploy student engagement coaches for outreach and engagement.
- Complete launch of the Student Engagement Portal.
Diversity and demographics
As a moral, educational and business imperative, Penn State has made ongoing investments in diversity, equity and inclusion across every campus. Today, students from underrepresented groups now represent 13.6% of the student population, up 3.8% since 2018. As incoming Penn State students continue to be more diverse, the University has focused on educating students of all backgrounds, achieving institutional goals, and fostering a welcoming and inclusive campus community through services and support, education and scholarship, recruitment and training, dialogue, and awareness. Among these efforts, Penn State integrated the “Framework to Foster Diversity” into the Strategic Plan as one of six foundations and articulated its commitment in the Penn State Statement on Diversity, Equity and Inclusion.
In June 2020, Barron released a plan to address racism, bias and community safety as part of a commitment to make changes across the University and in response to national events. Since June, students, faculty and staff have led efforts to review and revise the Student Code of Conduct; developed a series of proposals through the Select Penn State Presidential Commission on Racism, Bias, and Community Safety; and received a plan to implement bias training for all employees. In addition, the Faculty Senate is considering racism and bias coursework for all students; the Policing Communities of Color Task Force has been reconvened; and Penn State has established 67 equity scholarships totaling $23 million to recruit and retain students whose gender, race, ethnic, cultural and/or national background contribute to the diversity of the student body. A new Action Together website is available for the community to share ideas and receive updates on the progress of ongoing and future initiatives.
Goals for 2022:
- Establish diversity, equity and inclusion efforts as an enterprise focus.
- Hire a Chief Diversity Officer reporting to the President.
- Focus on racism, bias and community safety as part of the educational mission by establishing an institute focused on anti-racism and anti-bias scholarship, working with the Faculty Senate on curriculum, and offering education on the history of Penn State.
- Establish onboarding, mentoring and retention as best-of-class.
Technology and curriculum delivery
Penn State has made significant investments in the future of technology across the University. To reimagine student learning and support services across all Penn State’s campuses, One Penn State 2025 launched in 2018 to boost student success, engagement with Penn State across students’ lifetimes and the efficient use of University resources. Today, One Penn State 2025 committees are guiding the implementation of seamless online access to curricula and processes and recently hosted a symposium with more than 800 virtual attendees. Meeting the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic also has accelerated the ways Penn State is able to serve and reach students as part of these efforts. For example, during the past year, virtual instructional capacity has expanded and improved, the infrastructure for continued innovation is in place, and a Digital Learning Cooperative for course-sharing has doubled in use across the campuses.
Goals for 2022:
- Provide lifelong access to key student systems to support access to education.
- Coordinate and deliver responsive learning through micro credentials.
- Continue to build technology capacity to support student mobility and degree planning; use this information to enhance institutional efficiencies.
- Implement Client Relationship Management systems to support better lifelong engagement with learners.
To view President Barron’s full presentation, visit https://www.dept.psu.edu/ur/newsdocuments/PresidentsReportFeb2021.pdf.