In his report to the Penn State Board of Trustees Friday, President Eric Barron discussed the impact of the university’s commonwealth campuses on the institution as a whole.
Because Penn State has one mission, one degree, one administration and one governing board — “a nearly unique structure” in the United States — that creates a “very strong financial buffer” that allows the institution to become quite stable, Barron told the CDT last week.
Penn State has 20 undergraduate campuses, including University Park.
“We have a tremendous strength because we integrate across the entire state of Pennsylvania,” Barron said.
‘We are where the people are’
That structure is valuable because integration across the state provides stability, he said. Additionally, the commonwealth campuses provide affordable access to a “world-class” education, a “pipeline for diversity,” a positive economic impact for the communities they’re located in and philanthropy tied to those communities.
More than 95 percent of Pennsylvania residents live within a 30-mile radius of a Penn State campus, according to the university. Penn State is also ranked No. 6 among top employers in the state.
“We are where the people are,” Barron said.
Penn State is serving Pennsylvania families, he said, pointing to data that says that 82 percent of commonwealth campus students are from Pennsylvania, while 57 percent of University Park students are from Pennsylvania (13 percent starting at a commonwealth campus and then transferring).
University Park is more Pennsylvania-centric because of those other campuses providing students from all over the state, Barron said. Fifty percent of all first-year students start at a commonwealth campus, which is the primary entry point for Pa. students. About 3,600 of those students transition to University Park.
‘Pipeline for diversity’
The campuses play a role in providing affordable access to a “world-class” degree. According to Penn State, the differential tuition structure saves Pennsylvania students $3,000 to $5,000 per year.
Barron said the campuses also provide opportunities for nontraditional, place-bound students. Seventeen percent of Penn State’s student population are adults, including 1,000 veterans.
According to 2016 Penn State data on students apply for financial aid, the median income of families of students at University Park is almost double that (about $115,000) of the median income in Pennsylvania (less than $60,000). Eight of the campuses’ family median incomes were at or below the median Pa. income.
Additionally, the commonwealth campuses are a “pipeline for diversity,” Barron said.
According to Penn State data, underrepresented minority students make up 20 percent of University Park’s student population, and one-quarter of them started at a commonwealth campus. And the campuses are reflective of the communities they’re located in, so locations like Abington (41 percent), Brandywine (38 percent) and Greater Allegheny (34 percent) have more underrepresented minority students.
Penn State would have “very modest” diversity without the commonwealth campuses, Barron said, adding that not only is there a “moral imperative (and) business imperative” but also an “environmental richness” that comes from having a diverse student population.
Because these campuses are “essentially feeding” the larger institution, they are having a profound impact on it, he said.
“Our system ... is a huge part of our success story — financial success, philanthropic success, diversity success, access and affordability success,” Barron said.