Report on Spring 2015 College Visits
Faculty Senate Officer Report on College Visits
Our report reflects the conversations, issues, and impressions we gathered during our college visits. During each college visit, the Senate Officers met separately with Student, Faculty, and Administrative members in order to foster accurate perspectives from each stakeholder group. This report is detailed in order to give our Faculty Senate membership a complete and transparent view of the conversations, perspectives, challenges, and positive attributes heard during our very informative meetings.
1/30/15 Visit with Penn State Law and Dickinson Law Schools
Senate Officers had three joint meetings with representatives from University Park and Dickinson locations simultaneously using information technology at the Penn State Law Katz Building. This impressive technology worked in a seamless, intuitive fashion and permitted voice and video recognition of the main speaker from either the Penn State Law or the Dickinson Law locations simultaneously.
At Penn State Law, students were especially complementary about the diversity of their student body, which includes a strong international cohort. This diversity offered multiple perspectives for sharing opinions and fostering intellectual debate, which students believed was central to the pursuit of a quality law education. A majority of law students had scholarship support, with some having support from from Penn State and some international students from their country of origin. Students at Penn State Law spoke highly of the quality of their building, its design, the library, and the Leads Building Certification.
Dickinson Law students were complementary about the smaller school enrollment and believed that improved student access to faculty. Students indicated their facilities were high quality and complementary that older buildings had recent technology and access upgrades. Students also discussed their geographic advantage, which includes access to Harrisburg, the seat of PA State Government, and the associated court system in the immediate area. Washington DC is also very close, giving students access to opportunities with Federal Government and associated corporate and private organizations located in that area. Some Dickinson Law students have families local to the surrounding area and are able to live at home. Overall, students from both locations expressed some concern about the future perception and name recognition of their degree, given the fall 2015 separation of the two law schools.
Students from the School of International Affairs (SIA), represent a third and distinct cohort and most were pursuing Master’s Degrees of International Affairs. These students gave high marks to their education with an interdisciplinary structure that gave exposure to diverse, important topics ranging from poverty, human rights, to climate change and its impacts at multiple societal levels. SIA students were not as pleased with their educational experience compared with either Penn State or Dickenson cohorts pursuing Law degrees. Issues discussed included the fact that their classes are scheduled in multiple buildings across University Park as opposed to a central location in the Katz Law Building and they did not feel they had priority or equal status in the Katz Building for student studying or scheduling space for student activities.
The Dickinson Law Faculty were very upbeat and optimistic about their new curriculum and general direction for their Law School. They had confidence in their Interim Dean, and at the time of our meeting in January, thought a timeframe for hiring their new Dean needed to be established to better chart their school’s future direction and competitiveness. Faculty echoed positive comments made by their students regarding their geographical proximity to both the Harrisburg State Capital and Washington DC area. Their location was viewed as a strategic advantage and offered synergies providing both leverage for educational opportunities and placements for student internships. While Dickinson Law is a complete law school with instruction, research, and service components, faculty thought their intentionally smaller enrollment offered distinct advantages for hands-on instruction and more mentored student experience.
Penn State Law Faculty thought their larger student enrollment, proximity to a Big Ten undergraduate campus, and college town atmosphere offered their program desirability and definition. Their program offers interdisciplinary, dual degree options, which could involve choices within the College of Business or College of Liberal Arts Political Science Program. Faculty expressed support for their current Interim Dean, but at the time of our meeting in January, echoed similar comments by Faculty at Dickinson Law, that a timeframe for hiring their new Dean needed to be established to better chart their future direction and competitiveness. Faculty also discussed challenges integrating the School of International Affairs (SIA) with their Law School, in brief, “should it be a part of our Law School or should it be a separate academic entity?” The current size of the faculty in this program is small, 10 total, with only 4 tenured and some believed that a more robust commitment to SIA should to be embraced by Penn State Law.
The Administration of both Law School units was actively engaged in the transition of establishing separate paths and missions for each Law School. They noted tuition subsidies currently support students at both locations, enrollments are up at both locations, and both units are on track to establish two autonomous American Bar Association Law Schools by fall 2015. The two Deans reported that they meet at least once a week to coordinate this transition. All current students who initially enrolled in the Unified Law Degree Program between both campuses, will graduate under that single degree plan; as of fall 2015, students enrolled will follow separate degree tracts. At the time of our meeting in January, both Interim Deans anticipated searches for permanent Deans in the near future. They also indicated that their Law Library is a strong information resource and efforts are being made to coordinate that resource access between both law school locations. Both Interim Deans indicated that clear campus identities and missions will be communicated to the 2015 entering classes.
Impressions and Recommendations:
Both Penn State Law and Dickinson Law have clear visions of their new missions, their programs, and their targeted student cohorts. While both Interim Deans are skilled at administering their programs and faculty, it was apparent from our conversations in January 2015, that faculty desired the Dean search process to proceed and believed that having permanent, Academic Deans in place would enhance the future definition and profile of their respected Law Schools.
Our impression was that the majority of Law Students in both programs were receiving significant scholarship support to maintain enrollments. While understandable in the short-term, such subsidy is likely not sustainable long-term, so building quality program reputations and establishing significant employment placements following graduation is essential for both Law Schools.
The School of International Affairs (SIA) appears to be a program that would benefit with a stronger commitment from Penn State Law, from both a student and faculty perspective. The Senate Officers shared the opinion that the SIA program could become an important, saleable point that differentiates Penn State Law from other competing Law Schools, and potentially a unique “dual graduate degree offering” that has great significance in our global community that has ever increasing international and legal intersections.
1/30/15 Visit with The College of Education
The students we met were a combination of undergraduate and graduate students. Both cohorts were most enthusiastic about their educational experience and the faculty that supports and facilitates their education. Access to quality employment opportunities in a competitive market weighed heavily on the minds of the undergraduates. These students were concerned about declining enrollments in their undergraduate college over time, reduced employment opportunities, and a low 50% retention rate in education jobs over a 5 year time period. STEM Education areas were acknowledged having more robust opportunities for employment. International Students reported that integration into normal student teaching internships is challenging due to laws at public schools, excluding their participation in such experiences.
Graduate students acknowledged the high quality reputation of the Penn State Education Graduate degrees at both Master’s and PhD levels, leading to quality jobs in Education Administration. However, many graduate students were concerned about the availability of longer-term funding supporting their fellowships, which is not guaranteed through the completion of their degree. This situation made their financial viability tenuous and became a low morale issue for many. They acknowledged excellent support for professional development in grant writing, technology applications, and mentoring/tutoring opportunities. Some graduate students indicated that they needed improved advising and increased access for instructing undergraduates, which can be key for securing post-graduate employment. International Students reported that the transition into graduate school, its rules and expectations, along with the transition into American culture was very challenging and that improved support mechanisms should be identified, prioritized, and implemented.
Faculty noted that the number of undergraduates attending their programs is declining but the decline is parallel with national enrollment trends in similar benchmarked programs. Despite this trend, the quality of Penn State undergraduate education majors remains high and job placement is very good, especially if undergraduates are willing to travel out of state, specifically to southern states and urban locations. Undergraduate students have increasing study abroad opportunities in places ranging from India to Ireland.
Faculty were especially enthusiastic and proud regarding the highly ranked Graduate Education offered through the numerous programs they supervise. They noted growing program enrollment in Rehabilitation and Human Services, Special Education, and Education Theory and Policy. A Workforce Certification Program in Technology is very popular with returning adult students. Faculty noted excellent supporting resources for their graduate programs including library resources, an ITS Computer Center for processing large data files, and The Teaching, Learning and Innovation Center.
Some faculty indicated that it was very tedious to file course and curricular changes through the Curricular Affairs Committee process (a Faculty Senate Standing Committee). These faculty believed that the current Curricular Affairs process needed to be reviewed, streamlined, and improved. Senate Officers noted this comment and this process will be examined in 2015-2016. Faculty noted that Research initiatives are frequently supported through private contracts with Corporations and Industry. However, establishing such contracts is increasingly difficult due to red tape involved with Penn State Administrative oversight. Faculty were united around their perception that improved ways of conducting business and approving contracts with private, paying clients, should be established.
The administration outlined the College of Education organization, indicating that there are four departments, Curriculum and Instruction, with large enrollment primarily servicing undergraduates, Educational Psychology, Educational Policy Studies, and Learning and Performance Systems. The college is successful in offering Professional Master’s Degree Programs through World Campus and also offers a number of on-line Certificate Programs. Faculty were generally characterized as “research oriented”, “enjoying student instruction”, and “providing a number of innovative professional preparation programs.” Recent emphasis is placed on working with undergraduates from STEM Colleges at University Park, developing new study abroad programs, and supporting a growing international student population at undergraduate and graduate levels.
Challenges include following a changing landscape of federal, state, and local regulations governing K-12 instruction. As one example, Pennsylvania recently implemented a basic skills test for K-4th graders, but adjacent states do not have a similar requirement. Professional advisors are increasingly used to meet the demands of students, but this adds to program overhead costs. Concern was expressed about potential “free” summer tuition being considered for PSU Students, adding that summer student enrollment currently generates considerable revenue for their College.
Impressions and Recommendations:
The Senate Officers were most impressed by the quality of undergraduate and graduate students and the enthusiasm they displayed during our meeting. Undergraduate students were most concerned about securing jobs following graduation; however, our discussions with faculty and administration indicated that job placement for undergraduate students is excellent, especially for those students willing to travel out of state and south for employment. Senate Officers believed that both the Faculty and Administration should improve their communication to students regarding the high employment value of the Penn State Education Bachelor’s degree and reassure students that they will be placed into competitive jobs in education, but be clear that the most robust job markets are found outside Pennsylvania, in southern states, and in urban environments. Improved communication about these positive realities should be relayed to undergraduate students and perhaps enhanced by establishing recruitment relationships that encourage students to apply to targeted, out of state, quality school districts.
Graduate students have inconsistent stipend support, and support is only guaranteed for the first year for many students. This reality results in low morale and considerable financial worry among graduate students. However, the Senate Officers were told that once these students earn their graduate degrees, the excellent reputation of the PSU Education Graduate Program greatly improves employment opportunities for their graduates. If this tenuous graduate stipend funding is a longer-term reality, it should be better communicated to graduate students prior to matriculation and students should perhaps be prepared to take loans for graduate education, with the expectation of improved employment opportunities once their degree is earned. Alternatively, if financial support is unlikely to change and graduate students demand stipend support for the entire course of their graduate degree, then the College of Education could consider downsizing their graduate enrollment with the goal of providing full financial support for their graduate students. The Senate Officers were told at our meeting with the Graduate School that the College of Liberal Arts Graduate Program made such a decision 10 years ago, and now enjoys a smaller, higher quality program, with all graduate students fully supported.
One of the committee charges for the upcoming Senate Year is to review and streamline the Faculty Senate Curricular Affairs process, as this issue was indicated in our conversations with both the College of Education and the Division of Undergraduate Studies.
Our final recommendation is to examine the forms, procedures, and approvals needed for private contract work and private research initiatives. Faculty in particular thought that the “red tape” involved in securing these relationships was very restrictive and limited funding opportunities.
2/20/15 Visit to The College of Engineering
The Senate Officers were very impressed by the breadth of quantitatively demanding undergraduate programs represented by students in our meeting. As a group, these students are academically elite, enrolled in challenging programs requiring 128-136 credits for graduation, routinely take 17-18 credits loads, graduate in 4 years, and surprisingly, have an optimistic “can do” attitude and do not complain. Some of the majors represented were the mainstays of Chemical, Industrial, Mechanical, and Electrical Engineering, as well as the more discipline-specific Aerospace Engineering, Architectural Engineering, Nuclear Engineering, Computer Engineering, and Bioengineering.
Students were most complementary about their course instruction, which was “overall excellent”, their Professional Advising Center, which provided “good, knowledgeable support”, and especially Career Services, which was described as “outstanding” and “providing avenues for internships that set you up for success on the job market.”
Some of the challenges included comments that some of the core, required courses were very large and would benefit by multiple sections and more instructors. Entry into major by sophomore year was described by some students as “quantitatively challenging and stressful” with courses including Calculus 1&2, Chemistry 110, Differential Equations, Engineering Mechanics. Grades of C or higher are required in these courses along with a 3.0 GPA entrance to major requirement, and enrollment caps of 100 students in some majors. Advising was described as very good for the first two years through the professional advising center, but at times there were “not enough advisers to meet student demand” and “it took a while to schedule an appointment.” Some students said that their campus infrastructure needed improvement and a few said that West Campus locations for some labs and Central Campus locations for others made travel, especially with research equipment, challenging.
Faculty were very complementary about the students they instructed and the undergraduate programs they offered. They said the program goals were constructed to make their students “grounded problem solvers” and that overall, the Penn State Engineering degree has a high quality reputation nationally, based in part upon their students receiving excellent career placement following graduation. Faculty were proud of their “Learning Factory Facility” which supports “hands on learning” in a number of innovative projects including The Lunar Lion, Hydrogen and Alternative Energy Powered Car Projects, and various student engineering clubs and their associated projects. Faculty pointed out that many of their undergraduate degrees are top 5 in the country and by survey Penn State Engineering degrees are #1 ranked by employers. The Faculty were also very supportive of their new Dean and thought he had a strong vision of the future and clear ideas and direction of where he wanted to lead their College.
Faculty indicated that limited space, especially for some laboratory experiences, coupled with high undergraduate demand for their courses resulted in enrollment controls for their majors, which some students do not appreciate. One example was Aerospace Engineering, where the enrollment cap is 100 students, but 130 students apply for entry by sophomore year. Faculty reported that for this major in particular, there is not enough space (classroom seats) or instructional support to meet demand. They reported having the highest undergraduate student enrollment per faculty member in the country 24-27:1 vs 10-15:1 for benchmarked, peer institutions. Some faculty said that current undergraduate student to faculty ratios are unsustainable, especially when coupled with faculty research demands.
Likewise, the Engineering Undergraduate Advising Center is over-subscribed with only 4 professional advisors meeting the demands for 3800 students enrolled in years 1 and 2. Faculty also expressed concern over the new legislative burdens of mandatory background checks, creating further red tape and paper work for situations they thought had very low risk.
While older buildings such as Hammond and Sackett have recently renovated interiors with good technology support for student learning, the Engineering College has not had a new, dedicated building in over 20 years. (West Campus construction is not included in these comments as this is primarily a research location for Applied Research Laboratories and Material Sciences). Faculty were united in their support for a new building and it was discussed that a major purpose for this building could be classroom space, laboratory space, and advising space for undergraduate programs.
The Administration indicated that they had excellent students, quality faculty, and strategic planning resources to handle these demands. In terms of diversity, they indicated that they are #4 in ranking for numbers of tenured Women Faculty and have a top 10 ranking for numbers of African American Faculty. The Administration notes that “we (engineers) are problem solvers, we embrace change, we share resources, we interact across departments and disciplines, and we expertly juggle multiple demands for our time.” They indicated that they have faculty who are “Serial Entrepreneurs”, which fits well with President Barron’s initiative and have a multidisciplinary approach to research that combines Engineering expertise with Medicine, Science, Agriculture, and Architecture disciplines. Over the last 10 years, research dollars have grown by a factor of three and undergraduate students have increased 27%.
Diversity is a strong point for the College in terms of both students and supporting faculty; however, funding for supporting scholarships is limiting. Currently there are 5 Bunton Waller Scholarships and 7 Millennium Scholarships given each year supporting underrepresented students.
The biggest challenge facing the College of Engineering is undoubtedly infrastructure. The administration indicated that a new building is desperately needed, along with refurbishment of existing space, indicating that instructional space, lab space, and office space is lacking in quality. The Dean suggested that more undergraduate tuition money could be returned to the College for advising support, citing that their current ratio is 1 advisor per 700 students and other benchmarked institutions have more favorable 1:200 ratios. Enrollment caps in Engineering Programs are not ideal, but the reality is instructional space, instructors, and advisors are needed. The Dean is very worried about the combination of space issues, underfunding issues, and high advisor and faculty to student ratios. He was of the opinion that unless Penn State makes a sizable infrastructure investment, the current national rankings of the undergraduate program as a top 20 and graduate program as a top 30 ranked program will surely fall.
Another issue expressed is the issue of negotiating research contract with private, corporate/industry entities, which involves too much time, paperwork, and negotiation.
Impressions and Recommendations:
The College of Engineering is one of the top undergraduate programs at Penn State and benefits by having a quality and committed faculty who instruct an academically elite and prepared group of students, in a quantitatively challenging and demanding curriculum. Despite having nationally ranked programs and exceptionally positive feedback from corporate employers of graduates, the Senate Officers are very concerned that Penn State has not adequately invested in the maintenance and expansion of one of its premier undergraduate programs for many years.
Based upon the student, faculty, and administration opinions we heard, the College of Engineering would greatly benefit from a new building for instructional, laboratory, advising, and office space, but as always, Penn State’s overall financial climate needs to be considered. Ideally, more money could be ear marked for advising needs as well as for scholarships for underrepresented students. High Faculty/Student and Advisor/Student ratios imply that investment could be made in personnel to meet needs on both of these fronts. Finally, echoing comments heard in the College of Education, review of contract relationships for research should be reviewed and streamlined as business and funding dollars are being lost due to red tape and difficulty establishing these relationships.
2/27/15 Visit with the Division of Undergraduate Studies
Division of Undergraduate Studies (DUS) students are admitted to Penn State without a declared major, so the goal of this program is to give students a framework for exploration and curricular experience in order to declare a major by end of their Sophomore year. The students we met were considering majors in Business, Science, Health Policy, English, International Relations, and Human Development and Family Studies. Students were very complementary about the advising support they had in this program and the convenience of “walk in” advising appointments. They spoke highly of a “Major Quest” software program that assists with course selection related to student interest areas. Additionally, many enjoyed the “Discovery House” which is a special dormitory for DUS students.
Students can gain access to “enrollment controlled majors” at Penn State, including Business and Engineering, through DUS, which means that DUS can also serve as an important weigh point for students originally in one major, changing their mind, and now needing to accumulate credits and grades for entry into majors housed in different colleges.
Due to the unique structure of the DUS Program, there are no supporting or instructional faculty, so the Senate Officers met with DUS Advisors. The DUS program was founded in 1973 and by design is student friendly and service oriented. Advisors need to broadly understand today’s student, evaluate student interest areas, and most importantly, broadly understand the mechanics, rules, prerequisites, and proper course selection for majors across all colleges at University Park. Some colleges have designated DUS coordinators who are housed in Advising Centers at those colleges (College of Science, College of Business for example). One major issue is that much of the information pertaining to majors and curricula used to be found in the “Penn State Bluebook” (Undergraduate Bulletin) and it is now somewhat scattered throughout the Penn State Web System. As a result, locating current, correct, up-to-date information for majors, can be challenging.
Challenges include not having a single, “go to” location on the Penn State Web that serves as an Undergraduate Bulletin. They indicated that a unified, on-line Bulletin would have majors, course descriptions, and prerequisites displayed in a consistent fashion with current and up-to-date information. With the advent of LionPATH, it is uncertain how this e-bulletin might interface with checking student transcripts and prerequisite courses.
Advisors also discussed the issue of international students who are the last to arrive on campus for fall scheduling. As a result, many classes they need are full, especially important English as Second Language (ESL) courses. Additionally, many departments “reserve spaces” in Math, English, Chemistry, and other key freshman courses, which might also be unavailable for international students at the time of scheduling. Like many undergraduate programs on campus, there is a need for Psychological Counseling Services (CAPS), especially towards the end of fall semester and at that time, the wait time to schedule an appointment can be excessive.
The administration indicated that they have 32 advisors in their program that service approximately 4000 students. This is a ratio of 1 advisor to 125 students, which the Senate Officers note is far more favorable than the 1:700 ration seen in the College of Engineering. Extra advisors are hired for summer New Student Orientation (NSO) and on busy days, their advisors might have to meet with 50 or more students. Like the advisors, the administration emphasized the importance of a Unified Penn State Web Bulletin and a smooth interface with LionPATH.
Impressions and Recommendations:
In some respects, having several thousand freshman and sophomores in an “undeclared major status” is counter to President Barron’s initiative to decrease the time taken from matriculation to earned degree. While DUS advisors are very well-intended in their assistance with student schedules and exploratory pathways, an undeclared major status, by its very nature, tends to prolong the time to graduation, as not all courses taken will necessarily apply to a major in a proper time sequence.
The most salient point of our visit was the discussion about a Unified Penn State e-Bulletin, providing a complete and on-line accessible listing of majors, graduation requirements, courses, descriptions, and prerequisites. This should be developed and perhaps the advisory staff of DUS could be instrumental in helping to create this system. Ideally, this system should seamlessly interface with the new LionPATH System.
Finally, there are distinct issues scheduling international students, by virtue that they arrive at the end of summer NSO, after the majority of students have scheduled. The Senate Officers discussed the idea of using “Face Time” or “Skype”, allowing earlier remote summer meetings with these students and facilitating the creation of fall schedules that at least reserves priority ESL, math, General Education, or other likely, first semester courses.
2/27/15 Visit with Earth and Mineral Sciences
Students represented a variety of majors in the College of Earth and Mineral Sciences (EMS) including Meteorology, Geography, Materials Science and Engineering, Environmental Systems Engineering, Energy, Business and Finance, and Petroleum Engineering. Most programs have small junior/senior classes in major, with 25-30 student enrollments. The exception is Petroleum Engineering, which is in expansion phase and has enrollments of 200 students. Lab facilities, first year seminar facilities, and a study lounge in Hostler Building help to build a sense of community for EMS undergraduates. Students reported a good Student Council Organization and a Dance Marathon Group that was the #1 independent organization for Thon Fundraising.
Students indicated that they would like to see the organization of an EMS Career Fair, as the larger career fairs on campus cater more to Business and Engineering students. Some EMS majors require 130 or more credits to graduate and it is challenging to achieve that goal in 4 years without taking some science-oriented courses during summer sessions. Students also said that some building facilities are spread out over a wide footprint on campus ranging from Materials Sciences buildings in West Campus, to Hostler, to Millennium Sciences that is farther away on the East side of campus. Finally, EMS students reported academic integrity issues with courses, especially those offered on-line, and suggested that an Honor Code would be useful at University Park.
EMS Faculty enjoyed their instructional roles and participation in meaningful, often interdisciplinary research. They indicated that their administration is ahead of the curve and appreciates quality, important research as opposed to simply valuing the number of research dollars generated. Non-tenure line faculty play an integral role in the department, especially in student instruction, and are valued for their contributions.
Some of the challenges include a large growth rate in numbers of undergraduates without adequate development of their employment placement needs. Unfortunately, many faculty are over-committed in teaching and research and as a result, they can not assist with important employment placement needs in a meaningful fashion. Faculty suggested that establishment of an “undergraduate employment initiative” should be prioritized.
Faculty were most concerned about the impact of AD Policies, especially with respect to international travel and research. They said Penn State has become very risk adverse and this climate inhibits the ability to negotiate contracts and research agreements in the private sector, to travel abroad with computers, to conduct research abroad, and, in general, to pursue international research, professional relationships, conferences, and investigations in an open fashion.
Faculty were not pleased with the number of “compliance initiatives” they must cooperate with as a member of Penn State. Specifics cited included the “Take Care of Your Health Initiative”, “Complex Documentation and Rules for Travel Reimbursement”, “Child Abuse Training”, and related to that, the “The Fingerprinting and Background Check Initiative”. They suggested that the message being sent is that “we are bad people”, “we are guilty”, “we are not trusted”, and “we are treated like children, told to do things”.
The administration outlined the organization of the College of Earth and Mineral Sciences, consisting of five major departments, Geography, Materials Science, Meteorology, Geosciences, and Mineral Engineering, the largest department that includes Petroleum Engineering and Mining Engineering. The College has 135 tenure-line faculty and all departments are linked with the study, use, and application of earth’s resources.
Some of the noteworthy activities include Weatherworld, a longstanding, student operated weather reporting show, the current renovation of the Steidle Building, which will greatly improve Materials Science facilities, and a Water Research Initiative, recognizing that water is a very important and often limiting resource in many regions around our globe. The rapid growth and demand for Petroleum Engineering graduates in the last 5 years has created enrollment capacity challenges and recently, the sudden collapse of oil prices has negatively impacted hiring in this sector in rapidly trending ways that are not fully appreciated.
Educational Equity is a Dean’s level position in the College to demonstrate commitment and importance to this hiring and enrollment issue. Very positive improvement has been achieved in this area, as twelve years ago, international students were less than 1% and underrepresented students were less than 4% of enrollment. Currently, the International Student population has risen to 18% of enrollment and Underrepresented Students are 13% of enrollment.
Team building exercises are undertaken to build faculty-student relationships for 4 days prior to the start of fall semester and the faculty routinely help new EMS students move into the Penn State dormitories in an effort to foster positive relationships early in their academic degree.
Impressions and Recommendations:
The College of Earth and Mineral Sciences offers diverse and respected curricula in earth resource disciplines with a strong commitment to quality undergraduate and graduate instruction. Attributes include a strong international research reputation and robust enrollment in Petroleum Engineering, along with significant research and program reputations in Material Science and Meteorology. Senate Officers were most impressed by the significant strides made to improve international and underrepresented student enrollment and credit is likely due to the creation of and commitment for a Dean’s level administrative position in Educational Equity.
Faculty were most vocal about the negative impact they believed various AD policies were having on their ability to travel and conduct research internationally. In a similar vein, faculty thought the number of healthcare, background check, travel reimbursement, and child abuse initiatives were collectively counter-productive and created morale issues among faculty, staff, and students.
3/27/15 Visit with the Graduate School
The students we met were very bright, articulate, passionate, and divided into two distinct groups. One group was reasonably content with their financial support and actively working in research and the pursuit of their graduate degrees. The other group was actively engaged in the organization and representation of graduate students and very concerned about their welfare from healthcare, financial support, and representation perspectives.
Representation of graduate students has shifted from the former Graduate Student Association (GSA) to a new, administration recommended, Graduate and Professional Student Association (GPSA). The later incorporation better describes and represents all students seeking graduate education, adding to the title, those seeking degrees in Law and Medical areas.
Healthcare insurance and more uniform stipend compensation were the dominant issues discussed by students. Additionally, students voiced concern about the inability to control their own e-mail list serve, with only 2 mass e-mail contacts permitted a semester, both of which had to be approved. From their perspective, asking permission to contact other graduate students and limiting the number of contacts per semester are both salient issues. Their current platform includes:
- “Living wage stipends” for all graduate students
- Quality health insurance with reasonable deductibles
- Free communication among graduate students and communication between graduate students and members of graduate council
- Participation in the review of graduate faculty
- Increased graduate student representation on Faculty Senate
(currently only 1 member)
Faculty Meeting (we met with members of Graduate Council Executive Committee):
The Senate Officers discussed many of the issues brought to our attention at the graduate student meeting. Regarding graduate assistantships, stipends ranged from $12-$14,000 per year to $26-$32,000 per year. The MBA Program in the College of Business was described as a “lost leader” and has some of the lowest stipends. Many of the graduate students in this program are international students, apparently willing to accept lower stipends that were not viewed as competitive with more prestigious programs. It was reported that graduate students with higher application credentials seek “Prestige MBA Programs” such as those found at University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School, Columbia, and Harvard. Additionally, it was noted that a growing trend is to pursue MBAs part-time through night courses after work or through on-line MBA Programs. For these reasons, more robust stipend support for the Penn State MBA was recommended to maintain program viability and enrollment.
Many graduate students are supported by tuition dollars generated from General Education Instruction, including graduate students in the College of Arts and Architecture and the College of Liberal Arts. It was acknowledged that graduate stipend support is problematic in some programs, in particular graduate students in the College of Education, as the Senate Officers confirmed during our visit to that college. The Senate Officers were told that stipend support for graduate students in the College of Liberal Arts was in a similar situation 10 years ago and that College made the difficult decision to reduce graduate student enrollments. Longer term, this action resulted in fewer graduate students, but with higher quality credentials, and full stipend support.
Some of the future policy issues that should be addressed include a policy allowing graduate students to instruct graduate level courses. This is necessary for some of the laboratory-based courses in Engineering, for example. Additionally, the policy on graduate faculty membership needs to be clarified to allow both research faculty and professional/clinical faculty to participate.
Two other issues include increasing the diversity of resident graduate students and balancing degree quality issues in on-line graduate programs verses the cash flow potential such programs can generate.
The Graduate School controls only a limited amount of funding and most graduate stipend monies are generated and controlled by the degree-granting units. Twenty new Graduate Fellowships were added this past year, at a pay rate of $26,000 per year, bringing the total number of fellowships offered to 100. NSF Fellows have increased from 20-90 over the last decade, but Penn State still ranks behind top tier institutions in this metric.
Despite an increasing research budget at Penn State, the slow growth in funding for graduate student stipends was blamed, in part, on increasing reliance on Post Doctorates to oversee laboratories and research programs, verses more traditional models where graduate students perform these tasks. In the current, ultra-competitive grant-funding climate, Post Doctorates are more efficient financial models, as graduate students rely heavily on the principle investigative faculty to provide considerable time for their supervision and mentoring.
Penn State has a 60% completion rate for PhD degrees, which ranks above the national average of 50%. The average time to degree completion is 5.3 years.
The Graduate School is developing a new plan for diversity recruitment. The last 10 years have been flat in terms of underrepresented enrollments, 5-6% for resident students (7% national average) and 10% for on-line degrees.
Impressions and Recommendations:
The graduate student’s efforts to organize is impressive but also problematic in that it indicates that their collective needs are likely not being met, especially in areas of financial compensation and health care. The administration indicated that use of the graduate students list serve was being limited in part because efforts were being made to utilize this list serve with an underlining goal to unionize graduate students.
Like many colleges we visited, the future competitiveness and success of the Graduate School depends upon funding. Competitive stipends and reasonable health insurance plans are essential for recruiting quality and diverse graduate students. Lacking endowments to support graduate stipends, research grant funding must be utilized. In larger laboratories, grant funding models pit funding Post-Doctorates against funding graduate students, the later being more demanding on time and supervision by the primary investigator. There are no easy answers to this dilemma, but solutions must be found if the Penn State’s graduate programs are to remain viable and nationally ranked.
Finally, downsizing enrollments in some graduate programs could improve their overall quality and address issues of stipend support. The Senate Officers were told that the College of Liberal Arts made the difficult decision to reduce graduate student enrollments ten years ago. Over that time period, this action reduced the number of Liberal Arts graduate students; however, it improved graduate application credentials, and all graduate students accepted into the program could be offered competitive stipend support.
James Strauss, Faculty Senate Secretary in consultation with Faculty Senate Chair Jonna Kulikowich and Chair-Elect Mohamad Ansari.