Penn State

Why Barron feels Penn State’s vision for 2025 can set it apart from others

President Barron smiles during the Penn State Board of Trustees meeting Friday, Sept. 14, 2018, at the Penn Stater Conference Center Hotel.
President Barron smiles during the Penn State Board of Trustees meeting Friday, Sept. 14, 2018, at the Penn Stater Conference Center Hotel.

Penn State President Eric Barron shared with the university Board of Trustees Friday a vision for what Penn State could look like in 2025.

It’s a rethinking of some of the university’s fundamental approaches to how it structures learning and operates to support student success.

“It’s a vision for what might happen between here and 2025,” Barron said in an interview with the CDT Tuesday.

One Penn State 2025 includes five guiding principles, among them a flipping of the script on lifelong learning. Everybody in the world of higher education is talking about it, he said. Penn State’s vision takes that notion further.

“What if Penn State is your university for life?” Barron said.

What if graduates never lose their email or student ID? What if they’re always in the system, had a portal to register for a class, or a major, at any point in their lives?

Right now, Barron said, graduation is an endpoint.

“This is a portal so that you never finish at Penn State if you don’t want to,” he said.

It’s exciting, he said, because, with this idea, potentially 800,000 people out there are still Penn State students.

“Everybody is talking about promoting lifelong learning,” Barron said. “I’ve never heard anybody say, ‘We’re your university for life. You never leave us. You get different degrees, but you never leave us.’”

He said he has a feeling this idea will catch on, but “not every university can pull this off. We have tremendous breadth; we have tremendous depth. We already have a world campus that is coming along. We have a lot of residential online courses. We’ve been thinking about lifelong learning for a while. We’re a robust institution.”

It’s a future that the trustees seemed excited about.

“It seems to me like a logical evolution of the land-grant mission,” trustee Cynthia Dunn, state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources secretary, said.

It would enhance the relevance of the university’s brand, Dunn said.

Alumni-elected trustee Alice Pope called it “a paradigm shift” and the kind of thing that has to happen with the “evolution of higher education.... I think Penn State can do it because of our alumni base,” she said.

Pope said she wondered about how the university can make the pricing accessible to people. This will require “lots of exploration” on what the financial structure might look like, Barron said.

The other guiding principles of the visions include:

  • Provide a seamless student experience by simplifying all of the transactional things students have to do, like dealing with admissions and enrollment.
  • Achieve curricular coherence so that no matter where students take a course, it’s extremely similar. The challenge there, Barron said, would be retaining the individual “flavor” of each faculty member who teaches it.
  • Design relevant and responsive programs. Students would be able to take courses multiple ways, whether it be accelerated or through an alternate delivery method.
  • Achieve greater efficiency of university resources.