Our View | Increase in applications to Penn State good news for region, state

The bell and Old Main on the Penn State campus on Saturday, June 23, 2012.
The bell and Old Main on the Penn State campus on Saturday, June 23, 2012. CDT file

It’s a good sign for our region that applications to Penn State have rebounded.

The university reported receiving 45,917 applications from prospective undergraduates in 2013 through November, up nearly 20 percent from the 38,359 received in 2012.

That increase puts application numbers back in line with those of 2010 (44,977) and 2011 (45,932), basically before the Jerry Sandusky child sex-abuse scandal rocked Penn State.

“The level of interest in attending Penn State is very gratifying,” President Rodney Erickson told the Faculty Senate this week, as reported by our Mike Dawson.

There was good news across the board for Penn State:

University spokeswoman Lisa Powers pointed to enhanced undergraduate recruiting in the Philadelphia and Pittsburgh areas.

She also said Penn State now offers millions in scholarships, at the same time as the economy is rebounding and applications are up at similar colleges across the country.

During the summer, Forbes listed Penn State 93rd on its list of America’s best colleges, up from 194th in 2012. Forbes had Penn State 19th among public universities and 49th among research schools nationally.

The Center for World University Rankings had Penn State at No. 50 this year, a jump of 14 spots. The center, based in Saudi Arabia, considers educational quality, faculty and research.

In September, Penn State announced it had generated $1.88 billion through its seven-year fundraising campaign, For the Future, with a goal of raising $2 billion by the end of fiscal 2014 in June.

October brought the news that Penn State’s research expenditures had climbed to a record level, $848.2 million, for fiscal 2012-13. That’s an increase of 5 percent over 2011-12, including $30 million more in federal research funds.

The university has seen a 40 percent increase in research expenditures in the past decade, Neil Sharkey, vice president for research, said.

“The public and private sectors have confidence and trust in our faculty and students, who are engaged in research and creative work, and in the importance of their work to our society,” Sharkey said, noting that Penn State research provides a $2 billion boost annually to the state’s economy.

Penn State also saw its financial rating improve in the latest report from Moody’s Investors Service, which took the university from an Aa2 rating with a stable outlook to an Aa2 rating with a positive outlook.

Moody’s cited improvements Penn State made to its “governance, best practices and management” in its November report. Moody’s said Penn State’s nearly $60 million in settlements with Sandusky’s victims also enhanced its rating.

Powers said that “there has been some great news related to the university, such as upticks in our rankings, the positive nature of our bond rating, the jump in research funding and our fundraising goals close to completion.”

As Penn State goes, so goes the economic health of our region and all of Pennsylvania.

That’s why we’re excited by this run of positive news following a very challenging time for the university and the community.