Penn State

On Centre | Penn State: University urged to marshal thousands of alumni lobbyists

Penn State occupies an interesting middle ground when it comes to colleges.

Despite the word “state” in the name, it isn’t a state university the same way that Clarion or Indiana or Lock Haven are. Those schools are part of the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education, the agency that operates the commonwealth’s 14 state-owned institutions.

Unlike the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, Penn State is not private and doesn’t have Ivy League admissions requirements, or Ivy League tuition.

Instead, Penn State is a little of one, a little of the other and something totally different all at the same time.

As a land-grant university, it falls into the same state-related (yet still separate) category as three other Pennsylvania schools: Temple University in Philadelphia, the University of Pittsburgh and Lincoln University, one of the oldest historically black colleges in the country. They are hybrids between public and private, unique in the nation.

That means that Penn State, like her sisters, goes to Harrisburg every year to ask for an appropriation of funds. It means that it is important for the university to have a reciprocal relationship with state leaders, and for those leaders to know exactly how important the university is to the state and what kind of return on investment it can provide. That means lobbying.

And that’s something that trustee Bob Jubelirer says could use some work. But he doesn’t want the university to hire anyone. Instead, he wants to see it marshal the army it already has at its fingertips — its alumni.

The Penn State Alumni Association, the largest dues-paying group of its kind in the world, has 174,000 members. There are more than 600,000 alumni in total. In Pennsylvania alone, there are 40 chapters of the alumni association, along with the 24 campuses filled with active students and faculty.

Those are the forces Jubelirer thinks should be used.

“If you aren’t doing face-to-face lobbying, you aren’t being as effective as you think,” he told the outreach committee Thursday. He would know. Jubelirer, a Penn State and Dickinson Law graduate, was first sent to Harrisburg as a member of the state Senate in 1974. Over the years he served as majority leader, minority leader, president pro tempore and lieutenant governor.

“It’s retail. You have to tell your story,” he said. And the most effective way to tell it, he insisted, is for every chapter, every campus, every alumnus to get in a handshake with their area’s state representatives and senators, to push the importance of Penn State as an employer, a resource and an economic engine.

President Eric Barron concurred, saying the latest appropriation request is focused on job creation in Pennsylvania, and to use the power of the alumni to drive that point home could be valuable.

Of those 600,000 or so alumni, about 350,000 live in the Keystone State. That’s a lot of handshakes.