Higher Education in Focus – Access and Affordability of Higher Education

Higher Education in Focus – Access and Affordability of Higher Education

September 20, 2019 0 By Ronny Jaskolski


>>Support for Higher
Education in Focus comes from the Penn State Alumni
Association, serving alumni and alma mater for 145 years. On the web at alumni.psu.edu. Penn State Bookstore,
improving the student experience at Penn State with
philanthropic support of student causes throughout
the university, on the HUB lawn, or at psu.bn.college.com. The attorneys of McNees, Wallace
and Nurick, your mission, your goal, your lawyers. More at MWN.com. And, from viewers like you. Thank you. [ Music ]>>Welcome to Higher Education
in Focus, I’m Patty Satalia, with my co-host, Penn State
President, Dr. Eric Barron. In the early part
of the 20th Century, most Americans thought
higher education was reserved for the wealthy elite. That all changed when the G.I. Bill of Rights was
passed in 1944. The law created access for
a whole group of people who never thought they could
afford to attend college. But since 1980, tuition
rates have steadily climbed, while financial aid
programs have not kept pace. Students are leaving school
with more debt, taking longer to graduate, and some
aren’t graduating at all. These problems have become
a priority for Penn State. Here to talk with us about how
the university is tackling these issues is Renata Engel,
Associate Vice Provost for Online Programs,
and Dave Christiansen, Associate Vice President
for Commonwealth Campuses, and Senior Associate Dean
for Academic Programs. They’re part of the university’s
strategic planning working group on transforming education
and access. Thank you both so
much for joining us.>>Thank you for having us.>>I’ll start with
you, Dr. Barron, because you’ve directed
so-called working groups to lead the thinking
and development on six priorities
for Penn State. One of them is access
and affordability, and before we talk about some
pilot programs that these two and others are working on, why
is access and affordability such a critical issue at Penn
State now, and in the future?>>Well, we have a mission. We’re, you know, we’re a great
public, and so we don’t want to be a public in name only. We want to make sure that
we fulfill that mission of educating the population
of the Commonwealth, and increasingly
the United States, and we have a global reach. So really what we want
to be able to do is look at any student in the eye
and say “Come to Penn State. If you’re hard-working and
smart, and you’re going to put forth that effort,
you come to Penn State. I don’t care what you look like, I don’t care what your
financial background is like. I don’t care what
your history is like. You will graduate at
that very same high rate, and you will be successful out
there in the world,” and that, in my view, turns a great public
into a truly great public.>>Well, some people may
say, well how is access and affordability an issue
at Penn State when, in 2014, 127,000 people applied
to Penn State, and enrollment rose
by 3 percent.>>It did, and we have a lot
of good stories that tell us that our value proposition
is very high, that students from across the spectrum
say look, I know if I go to Penn State, I’m going
to a top-ranked university, in the top 1 percent of the
world, and not only that, every business magazine out
there ranks us as the place to recruit, or you know,
the most prepared students for the business world. So our students tend
to be very successful. That’s worth something. That’s really worth something. And so they come. But then, you know, my
feeling is you’ve got to dig beneath those numbers. Are they hiding anything? Well, one thing they’re
hiding is that students are taking longer. And that means they’re
borrowing money. So if we take the class that
came in 2007, going years five and six, they borrowed
$23 million. Okay, so I can drive down
the debt of my students, the debt load, that
graduate just by getting them to
graduate on time. Well, and then I also see that
if I’m need-based, I’d graduate at a much lower rate than
if I’m not need-based. Okay, to me this is–>>Only 8 percent of
those in the low-income–>>And right now–>>Background, they’re
a graduate.>>Right now, we do much better
than the national average there, but our lowest income category
graduates 22 percentage points below, say, a family
income that is $180,000. Not only that, they’re
taking longer to graduate because they’re working
too many jobs, and they take smaller
class load, which means that’s
already more time. Plus, if they’re working,
they don’t do as well. They may have to drop a class. And so you end up with the fact that the neediest student
is actually paying more for their college
education and many of those–>>And then, or they’re
straddled with more debt.>>And they’re straddled with
more debt, or they look and say at this rate I’m
not going to finish, and look how much
money I’m going to owe, I’m going to drop out. So this is that, this
is the real issue. People tend to focus on
the tuition increase, $400, you can’t keep doing this. Really, you know, the success
of our students suggests that we have to maintain
that quality. A bigger issue is a student that goes another
year and pays $16,000.>>For another year?>>That’s the biggest
tuition increase than you can possibly imagine. They’re not employed, so they’re
not making money, they’re paying for housing, food, and
their tuition, I can’t think of a better tuition
increase, so.>>I agree with you, but I
don’t think that argument about tuition increase is
going to go away when we look at the fact that right, it’s increased a thousand
percent since 1970.>>Let’s beat the
most pressing problem, making sure that entire– that
we drive down student debt, and we drive down the
total cost of a degree. That’s the most pressing
problem. And for publics, the financial
issue is a little bit tricky because if we actually
look at the percentage that the state provides
to the university and the tuition dollar, they’ve
just replaced each other. The state appropriation
dollar has been replaced by a tuition dollar,
and actually, the state support has
declined as a percentage of total budget more
than the tuition has.>>And of course Penn
State, among the Big 10, has the lowest per
student state funding of any school in the system.>>But we’re in the top end
of the quality spectrum, which is a statement that
we’re actually efficient in delivering quality, but
we lag behind our peers in what the state support
is, so you make up for it by having high tuition. That’s why I need
these guys to come up with great, great solutions.>>These two working
on this committee. Well one of the things you
mentioned was getting students, making sure that they’re
prepared, so that they can get through in four years, and the
calculus on that, as you said, is enormous, $400 versus $16,000 if you’re paying
for an extra year. You’re working on a committee
that’s piloting something involved in preparing students,
tell us a bit about it.>>Well certainly Patty,
the committee is looking at a pilot program starting
this summer at several campuses, in which we will be working
with students, preparing them and developing their
math skills, so that when they start
classes in the fall semester, they’re going to be at the
level they need to be in order to graduate in four
years, so very often, let’s say students want to
come in, they want to major in engineering, but they haven’t
been able to take calculus in high school, and in the past, they would find themselves
having to start at algebra or some lower level of
mathematics when they came to Penn State, and they would
already be behind once they enrolled in the university. So what we’re trying to
do over the summer is work with these students and get them
up to the level that they need to be, so they can be off to a quick start once they
start classes this fall.>>And if you think about this,
the opposite can also occur, that a student might
come in and misjudge where their math
placement should be. And if they’re tested
and done appropriately, you can actually save them
credit hours by saying “No, you fit in here for your major.”>>Yes absolutely and
actually we’re hoping, once we get this program
running, we’re hoping that we will be able to work with students while they’re
still in high school. These are seniors who
have accepted their offer to Penn State, and we want to
be working with them already so that they’re going to
have a successful semester over at the university.>>And this is what is
called efficiency, really.>>Yes it is.>>It’s student efficiency
in getting a degree.>>Yes.>>And some of this,
Renata, can happen online, and before I ask you
to comment on that, I’d like to just say that “U. S. News and World Report” ranked
Penn State’s world campus number one in terms of delivering
bachelor’s degrees.>>That’s correct.>>Online.>>Yes, it’s something
we’re really quite proud of.>>How can we not
be proud of that?>>So how would online
help a student who’s not quite prepared?>>Well, right and so we’re
doing some of this now, in fact, some of the preparation– because students will
be at a high school and Penn State attracts people
from all over the world, certainly across Pennsylvania,
but around the nation and around the world, and their
ability to come to Penn State to get those preparatory
courses while they’re still in high school is not feasible, but this is where online
can play a significant role, and we can do some of
this already with some of the tools that we have. Some of the companies
we’re working with, that provide some assessment
tools, and then the curriculum that we’re able to put behind that to help them
better prepare, and to be able to
step into that. So the online delivery there
is a really important element.>>So this is online
and Head Start.>>Correct.>>Were you also
debating options about how you could almost have
an online scholarship so that in the summer, you’re
taking a class online, but you’re at home,
and you’re working, and you’re saving costs?>>We’re looking at that for
one of our transition programs, which is another program that we
have, that we’re, I would say, beefing up this year, through
this particular task force that we’re working on, but it
really focuses there primarily on the– we’re targeting
between the sophomore and the junior year. That is when students
are entering their major, but obviously, no matter
what we do now with any of these pilot projects,
can very easily be extended across other semesters, other transition
points for the students.>>So just to make sure
we’ve got this, why pilot?>>So, our pilot–>>It sounds like you
just jump in and do it!>>Yeah! You see in the
good ideas, we could jump in and do it, but you know,
the language, we’re already on two examples,
and both are pilots. Describe the thinking there.>>Okay, so the pilot
thinking is that to expand some of these programs or to
move in this direction, you want to be able to do
them extraordinarily well. Our numbers, by saying pilot, doesn’t necessarily
mean they will be small because we’re thinking that
they will serve a large number of students. One of the things that the
pilots will help us do is to look at some of the metrics
as well, is to make sure that we’re achieving what
we intend to achieve. So if we intend to, in
the transition program, a student going from the
sophomore to the junior year, and we want to make sure
that they’re transitioning from a campus to
a University Park, and hit the ground running, and have a very successful
junior year at University Park, we’re going to be looking
at those metrics, the GPAs, do they drop courses,
what is their perception of their experience? Were they able to comfortably
attend that career fair in September just weeks
after they’ve joined campus. And those sorts of things, we want to get the student
perspective as well. So I think one of the
elements of a pilot, even when they’re large pilots,
will be for us to do some of that data collection,
and to make sure that we can tweak things a bit, or we can accelerate
what we’re doing?>>And the interesting thing
is that you are a product of this two plus two option.>>Absolutely.>>You spent two years
at a branch campus, and then two years at
University Park, so you know, you know what that’s like,
making that transition from usually a smaller campus
where you know everyone, to this enormous campus
that is University Park.>>Right, so one of the, I
think one of the best features of Penn State is
really the breadth of opportunities they
provide through their campuses and when I say campuses, I
mean the physical locations, as well as World Campus. My experience at Penn
State, Fayette Campus, which is now the Eberly Campus,
was I was there two years, I transitioned to
University Park, completed my engineering
degree in four years. I remember what that felt
like, that transition, it is a challenge, you’re
at a much larger university, there are many more
distractions, there are many more
opportunities, and trying to make those
decisions at the point when you’re also entering
your major is also a challenge for students, because you’re
hitting a curriculum right then which, in some cases, is
really tasking you in ways to apply the knowledge you’ve
gained in the first two years, and so I think this transition
program we’re looking at, which we’re calling Step,
Students in Transition, that we think is going to help
alleviate that, mitigate some of those challenges,
allow students to have a more successful
transition, and then be successful graduates
in four years, and you know, have that kind of experience.>>What type of pilots
are you thinking about for those students that
are in particular need-based, and we know their
retention rate is lower?>>Right, yes, well what we
are doing is we are looking at providing summer
opportunities for those students. Starting this summer at several
campuses, we would like to offer for students who are low
income or provisional or first generation, those sorts
of students, the opportunity to take classes at a Penn State
campus, and work on campus, 10-20 hours at that time, so we would like to provide
some employment for them, but perhaps in the community
as well, and these students, we’re hoping to provide them
with some scholarship dollars to support their class work, so
that would be in the first year. They would again be off to a
quick start and they would then, of course, enter
classes as other groups, with all the other
students, in the fall. We would like also to have a
second year for these students as well, where they could take
up to 12 credits in the summer, catch up on any work that they
fell behind on, but even better, get ahead and be prepared
to enter their junior year, or excuse me, their
sophomore year, on track.>>So they’re working
and being paid.>>Yes.>>And they’re taking credits, so they don’t have the
financial disadvantage, and they have scholarship funds, and now they’re no longer
looking far down the road, that it’s going to take
a long time to graduate.>>Absolutely.>>They see the end in
sight, and financially in a way that will work.>>We want to map it out for
them as much as possible. These students oftentimes do
not have the luxury that a lot of us had in that we’re second or third generation academic
students, where we had parents who had been through
the process, there were so many
unknowns for a great group of students out there. We want to provide a road map
for them, keep them on track.>>Academic advising and the
environment that you’re talking about here is going to be
critical and I know when I went to school it was practically
non-existent, but for the pilots that you’re talking about
to work, you really need to know your students,
and to work with them. Tell me a little bit
about how you’ll do that?>>Well, we certainly
want faculty members and staff members to
be involved with them. It’s very important
for the students to have the interactions
with the faculty who are the role models in the
classroom, but it is important for the staff there
to be available for the academic advising, and
help them, and the acculturation of working on a campus,
at a campus location.>>What about technology
in the same type of thing? Not exactly advising,
but can we catch students that may fall off their
degree map and save them time?>>Certainly, and let me
speak a little bit on this, but I think that this is where World Campus
can be very helpful. All of the Penn State
campuses, all 20 campuses that offer undergraduate
degrees, offer a pretty broad portfolio
of courses over the summer, but there are always
going to be some courses that are not available
for students to take in a residential setting. However, I think we have
such wonderful resources here at Penn State, in which
we can share these courses at a distance, that we should
be taking better advantage of these online opportunities. Our students certainly
could benefit from them, and this will, again, keep
our costs down a little bit, and we’ll make sure that
students stay on track.>>You know, this
is big thinking, and I’m wondering you know,
what the impact might be, not just for Penn
State, but beyond some of these pilot projects that
you’re talking about here.>>Well certainly this is an
institution that is very capable of taking on leadership at a national scale
and a global scale. When we do something
right, a lot of people look at see how we’re doing it. I think the opportunity to look
at this in a comprehensive way, with multiple pilots, having
the funding for those pilots, because we have set aside
the money to make sure that this isn’t a task force
that’s sitting there thinking of ideas, this group is
going to get to see the ideas that they propose go into
action, because we’re committed to doing this and
being successful. So if a place like Penn State, with really incredibly modest
state support, actually begins to drive down student debt and increase four-year
graduation rates, and watch the first in family to
go to college, highly correlated with lower income status, and we watch those students
have retention rates and graduation rates that
approach a population that has three generations of
college, and a stronger income because of that college
background, if we’ve really started to
see those numbers change, and we will, we absolutely
will, then this is going to be a great success story. It really is going to be great. And my sort of feeling about
Penn State is we’ve got a lot of bright people that work here,
and if they’re given a problem and asked to solve it, and you
make sure there’s the resources to do it, we can do it. We can do it. So it’s very exciting for me.>>Yes.>>Yes, yeah, I have to
say about our committee, it’s actually– our committee
comes from a wide variety of elements at the
university, but the success of these projects is
because of the integration across the whole university. It’s not David and I
working on these projects, it’s really a very broad
group of individuals that are committed to
having this kind of success.>>Alright, we’re going
to leave it there. Thank you to Renata Engel,
Associate Vice Provost for Online Programs,
and Dave Christiansen, Associate Vice President
for Commonwealth Campuses, and Senior Associate Dean
for Academic Programs. In just a moment, I’ll talk
one-on-one with President Barron about other important
initiatives, including making Penn State
a more diverse university. We’ll be right back. [ Music ]>>And we’re back with Penn
State President, Eric Barron. We were talking about
these working groups that you’ve assembled, one
that’s working on access and affordability issues, and one of the pilot projects
we didn’t get a chance to talk about was this Financial
Wellness. Tell us something about that?>>Well, so there’s data out
there now, which suggests that if you understand more
about your financial well-being, if you understand more of
the impact of borrowing, and you understand
more about how it is that you expend funds,
you borrow less. So one project at another
Big 10 university looked like it saved $20 million
in debt in a single year by just talking about
things like “Well, this will be your payment when
you graduate for the loans that you’re taking out,” and
the payment causes the student to say, “Well, you know, maybe
I really would rather have a roommate than have that as
being the payment,” or–>>Or I’m not going
to drop this class.>>Or I’m not going
to drop this class.>>I’m going to buckle through.>>Because that’s going to
cost me another semester, and so this whole notion
of financial literacy and financial wellness,
parent and student, can help our students, can
help drive down the cost of a college education,
and what’s more, make the student
financially more successful when they graduate because
they have less debt.>>Now, one thing
we also didn’t talk about is the future campaign,
for the future, the campaign for students, you raised
over $2 billion, what portion of that will be used to
help students with access and affordability to Penn State.>>So our alumni, and you just
have to be so incredibly proud of the culture of
philanthropy and the attitude that our alumni have about
access and affordability. Because $510 million
is designated to student scholarships,
and much of that for students that
are need-based. This is a phenomenal
accomplishment for a campaign.>>You know, 80 percent of
students who come from a family with a high income or with a
parent who went to college, their chances of graduating
from college are very– 80 percent will graduate– but if you’re talking
about a low income family, only 8 percent graduate,
so it sounds like this is money that’s really
needed to help that population.>>It really is, and of course
that looks at the population as a whole, but we still see
it, despite our programs, despite our effort, we still
see that graduation gap, based on income, and so
we know we can beat it. We know that with good
ideas, we can beat that, the financial literacy,
doing things as our guests were
talking about, to help people have a good head
start, to be very efficient in choosing their courses
and pre-requisites, to having summer opportunities
so they don’t get behind, or actually might be ahead by
the time they choose a major, all these things are targeted to solve what I think
are the biggest problems in holding back the
success of students that are financially challenged.>>And you know this
is a concern to the nation as a whole.>>It is.>>If we’re graduating, if our college graduates are
leaving school with $32,000 or more in debt, and some
of them are defaulting, this is something that
impacts all of us.>>Yes, it does.>>And so it’s important
to think, you know, a lot of students come to school and they don’t know
what they want to do, they don’t know what
they want to be, and so they flounder
trying to figure that out, and they may drop out, so now they have no
degree, and they have debt.>>And debt, that’s
even the worst story. So I look at it as, you know,
there’s a tuition increase, okay that makes us
all uncomfortable. The high cost, because
of low state support? Okay, that makes
me uncomfortable. Going an extra year
and paying $16,000? Awful! Not getting a
degree and having debt, I can’t think of anything worse.>>And yet Penn State, one of
your six priorities in addition to access and affordability
is diversity and demographics, and Penn State has greater
diversity in the last couple of years, geographically, and in
terms of ethnic representation. Tell me how you’re doing that and why is it an important
goal for Penn State?>>Okay, so I have
lots of thoughts here. One is, you know, you look
further down the road, it’s easier to get to
where you want to go. So if we look at
diversity, what do you see? Well, first of all it’s
a moral imperative. This is our mission. We’re a public. We educate the population
of Pennsylvania, do we look like Pennsylvania? So part of being a
public, and educating that student population is
paying attention to this issue. Second thing is, if we talk
to our students, they tell us that if they’re meeting
and interacting with people very
different than they are, from different countries, from
different economic background, different ethnic backgrounds,
their experience is richer, they will tell you that over
and over and over again. So there’s an environmental
richness imperative here, and the third part, that a
lot of people don’t think about is the demographics
in this nation are changing. If you don’t keep up,
if you’re not welcoming, you’re not inclusive, your
business model will fail. I’m willing to bet we’ll
see some universities go under because essentially
they’ve captured one portion of the demographic, and
it’s not sustainable. And so this is why thinking down
the road, about being welcoming and inclusive, is so important. It’s also a reason to
actually project the population in the State of Pennsylvania,
by campus, looking around us, how’s it changing, will our
business model still work? And I think it’s interesting
because people tend to look at it from one piece– got
to look at all three pieces.>>Alright, on that
note, we are out of time. We’d like to thank our
guests today, Renata Engel, she’s Associate Vice
Provost for Online Programs, and Dave Christiansen,
Associate Vice President for Commonwealth Campuses,
and Senior Associate Dean for Academic programs. With Penn State President, Dr.
Eric Barron, I’m Patty Satalia, for all of us here at WPSU,
thanks for joining us. [ Music ]>>Support for Higher
Education in Focus comes from the Penn State Alumni
Association, serving alumni and alma mater for 145 years. On the web at alumni.psu.edu. Penn State Bookstore,
improving the student experience at Penn State with
philanthropic support of student causes
throughout the university. On the HUB lawn, or
at psu.bncollege.com. The attorneys of McNees, Wallace
and Nurick, your mission, your goal, your lawyers. More at MWN.com. And, from viewers like you. Thank you. On the next Higher
Education in Focus.>>You’re working on a committee
that’s piloting something involved in preparing students–>>We will be working with
students, preparing them, and developing their
math skills, so that when they start classes,
they’re going to be at a level that they need to be in order
to graduate in four years.>>One of the things that
the pilots will help us do is to make sure that we’re
achieving what we intend to achieve.>>We’re committed to doing
this and being successful.