Our View | Numbers indicate strength of Penn State brand

February 4, 2014 

A surge in applications should give Penn State administrators a jolt of confidence.

So far, more than 58,000 prospective students have applied to the university for the next school year — a 17 percent increase of 8,500 more applications from last spring. Baccalaureate applications for University Park are up 19 percent from a year ago.

Eleven percent more Pennsylvanians are applying, as are 22 percent more out-of-state residents.

That’s good news for the university, which continues to rebound from the tarnishing its image suffered after the Jerry Sandusky pedophilia scandal.

As recommended by the controversial Louis Freeh report, the university has made more than 100 administrative reforms since 2012, including revamping sexual assault reporting protocols.

Partnering with the community, Penn State also has promoted training aimed at helping people better recognize and report warning signs of pedophilia.

While the university and its board of trustees still have their fair share of critics, the application surge suggests the Penn State brand is robust these days.

“The story the numbers tell is that Penn State continues to be a very popular choice, both locally and beyond our state borders,” a university spokeswoman told the CDT.

It’s doubtful that the reforms themselves carried much weight with applicants. For most, a scandal two years ago might as well be ancient history.

But just the process of change, of moving forward, creates a positive perception. More applications might reflect restored pride and renewed confidence, a belief that Penn State has turned the corner from its hangdog days not so long ago.

Not only university administrators should be buoyed by the application influx.

Local stores and restaurants depend on students as a steady source of labor and customers. Apartment landlords need tenants.

More students could benefit the Centre Region’s economy.

Whether they would do the same for Penn State’s quality of education is unclear.

All of Penn State’s University Park colleges have seen jumps in applications of at least 10 percent, with several of the largest colleges, such as engineering, at 20 percent or more.

For the summer/fall of 2012, the latest data available online, Penn State accepted 30 percent of its 62,981 applicants across the commonwealth campus system. About 42 percent of the acceptances were for University Park.

Since 2009, the mean total SAT score for students accepting offers of admission to University Park has stayed fairly constant, from 1,799 five years ago to 1,790 last year. Mean high school grade-point averages for the same group also fluctuated little: 3.84 in 2009 to 3.81 last year.

Though the university has not indicated any impending growth, it might be tempting for administrators to tweak the admission formulas and increase the acceptance rate. Think of the extra revenue.

We urge Penn State to maintain its standards and keep its admissions at present levels. Larger classes and housing shortages that dilute academics and the collegiate experience would be unfair to students and their tuition-shelling parents.

The university already enjoys a sterling reputation in many fields and has been ranked tops by company recruiters. A more competitive applicant pool only adds luster.

These days, the blue and white brand seems revitalized.

Penn State should count its blessings as it tallies up its next freshmen.

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