Penn State

Penn State President Eric Barron recounts successes of first year

Penn State President Eric Barron talks about increasing the diversity of Penn State on Thursday, April 23, 2015 in his office in Old Main.
Penn State President Eric Barron talks about increasing the diversity of Penn State on Thursday, April 23, 2015 in his office in Old Main. CDT photo

When Penn State President Eric Barron talks about his university, he doesn’t want to discuss the things that make up so many headlines.

He doesn’t want to talk about litigation and settlements, infighting and division, old guard and new blood.

Instead, he wants to spread the word about all of the good things he says get lost in the mix.

On Friday, he devoted his address to the board of trustees to talking about his first 12 months at the helm of Penn State and all of the successes that have happened since he took the wheel last May.

“The first job was to get to know Penn State,” Barron said.

That meant a lot of visits. Every department, every campus. There were a dozen out-of-town alumni events, another 11 donor events on the road, and 76 face-to-face donor meetings. There were 17 staff and faculty events, 19 non-football sports events and countless stops at tailgates around the stadium as he re-acquainted himself with the school where he spent 20 years and had been a dean before his stint as president at Florida State.

All of that, he said, has helped him realize that alumni have “a hunger for the good news about Penn State.”

He had plenty of that to share.

He recounted things that have been highlighted over the last months, like Penn State’s record-breaking number of applications.

“That is a statement about how people feel about Penn State. We have already beaten that record, and it’s a healthy increase,” Barron said. The 126,450 applications from last year are projected to be eclipsed by more than 131,000 this year.

The numbers are up for undergrad, for graduate school, for the law school and medical school.

“With that large number of students trying to get in the door, we also see the quality going up,” he said. SAT scores for applicants are going up as well, and admission is becoming more competitive.

He talked about the World Campus being named best online school in the country, with five online graduate programs scoring in the top 10. Then there were the honors for campus faculty, the students being selected for amazing scholarships, and the $2.2 billion final number in the For the Future capital campaign.

There was recruiting, with almost 9,500 students being interviewed by corporate recruiters who rank Penn State as a favorite stop on a short list of schools. There was research, with over $800 million in grant money, up 17.5 percent and keeping Penn State in the top 20.

“But this is not just about a president bragging about a school I love more and more every day,” Barron said.

What means a lot to him, he said, are the outside evaluations.

On April 23, Moody’s gave the latest issue of $75 million in bonds for the university a positive rating.

“Penn State’s Aa2 rating reflects its position as one of the nation’s largest and leading public universities, sustained philanthropic support, modest financial leverage and significantly strengthened governance and management practices. The Aa2 also incorporates risks associated with the anticipated significant expansion of healthcare operations that is more than offset by very strong liquidity and robust cash flow,” the investors services company wrote.

The university also was recently reviewed for accreditation by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education, and not only met all 10 requirements but was commended for 14 areas of institutional strength.

“They told us we were above and beyond in living the land-grant mission,” Barron said. “What I see is a tremendous success story.”

The president intends to press forward, especially focusing on his Invent Penn State initiative which recently announced a groundbreaking partnership with the Chamber of Business and Industry for Centre County.

“We have a great story of success to tell,” Barron said. “Penn State is remarkably strong and growing stronger, and new initiatives have the potential to take us even further.”