Ivy Leaf - Fall 2003
Thoughts from the Dean
Dear Alumni and Friends,
College costs are rising at a pace that has captured everyone's attention. A recent Congressional report, The College Cost Crisis, authored by U.S. Representatives John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) and Howard P. McKeon (R-California) is sharply critical of public colleges and universities in the United States for substantial increases in tuition over the past few years. It has been suggested that federal funds to public colleges might be curtailed to those institutions that do not place a cap on future tuition increases. Among many responses to that report, Stanley Fish's essay in the October 3, 2003 Chronicle of Higher Education offers a cogent reply from the academic viewpoint. I'd like to take a look at this topic as it unfolds at Penn State Altoona.
In the broadest of terms, there are two dominant forces influencing our budget. Because we are a college of the Pennsylvania State University, funds from the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania directly support us. Additionally, because we are a campus college, our budget is also derived from tuition income. As a whole, and reflective of President Graham Spanier's leadership, the University is deeply committed to quality in all that we do, and to being a student-centered university. Thus, we have faced a series of budget reductions and recisions from the Commonwealth with a renewed commitment to find ways to be more efficient (and Penn State is already recognized as one of the most efficient universities in the country) while sustaining quality for our students. A part of our reaction has been an increase in tuition. A Pennsylvania resident joining Penn State Altoona this fall paid $8,896 in tuition. All of us who are a part of Penn State Altoona recognize that this is a sizeable sum, but we also feel that the educational experience we provide more than offsets the cost. Here are a few of the reasons that I believe this.
Our faculty are by any measure extraordinary - not just good, but extraordinary. The measure of an institution over the long haul has everything to do with faculty. We absolutely do not compromise on the qualifications and expectations of those who educate our students. As we add new degree programs in our development as a comprehensive four-year college, we necessarily must employ new faculty to support these programs. Joining our already distinguished group of faculty is a cadre of scholars whose credentials would withstand scrutiny at any of the nation's finest universities. There is simply no alternative to placing the education of our students into the hands of faculty persons who will open their minds to new ideas - through not only traditional means, but also through engagement in research, conferences, foreign travel, and independent study. Our students are taught only by faculty members, never by other students. The experience of studying day-to-day and year-to-year with caring scholars who are recognized around the country for their achievements is what makes Penn State Altoona so special. Our faculty are among those who create new knowledge, who are literally at the frontiers of new discoveries, and whose creative accomplishments are exploring the world in new and exciting ways. We sustain this through a culture of learning that characterizes who we are, and also through a tuition structure that recognizes the need for quality.
There are some who argue that universities should operate more like businesses. Those of us in the academy generally cringe at this thought. The main reason (and perhaps a topic for a future letter) is that students are just that - students – and not customers. They have a set of duties and responsibilities that they must assume to be successful in college. They are in no sense guaranteed an education or a good grade (at least not from Penn State) just by writing a check. At the same time, we have an enormous responsibility to our students to provide them with every opportunity to attain the status of an educated person.
If we operated as a business, what might we do? In business, it's usually research and development that are the first to be sacrificed. That would probably be the library. If we did not have to face the 15% per year escalating costs to have the latest knowledge available, that would save a tremendous amount of money. And certainly new equipment and new technology could wait, even as the world changes more quickly each day. Next to go in a business are the unprofitable sectors. For Penn State Altoona, that would be all the cultural and civic events that are shared by the community, degree programs in important but specialized areas where enrollments are low, and all of the extracurricular programs that collectively contribute to the social, ethical, and leadership growth of the student. Cutting services is next, and evening hours for the financial aid office, bursar, registrar, and admissions office would end. And finally, as in business, we come to lay-offs. Some of our very best scholars would not be retained, and those who stay would teach to large classes without any attention to the individual student. At Penn State we actively choose not to travel this path. And we are convinced that what we continue to provide - the very best there is in public higher education - is worth the sacrifice we ask of students and their families through their tuition dollars.
We have done much to curtail costs, and will continue to look for new ways to do more. But we have also done much to protect the stature of Penn State as one of the nation's outstanding universities. Penn State Altoona is a vital part of that. We owe it to all of you, and to every student who will ever study here, to provide the best of the best for them. Let me assure you that we will continue to build upon our foundation of excellence in the full light that we are a great university.
William G. Cale, Jr., CEO and Dean