A New Years Wish: Focus First On Education, Then Research

As we settle into a new year already frought with economic turbulence both on a national level and a local level at Penn State, we at Safeguard Old State are keeping our fingers crossed that our university might take make a meaningful resolution to brighten up our spirits: be a real university.

It might sound odd. After all, what is a real university if not Penn State? (In fact, we explored that question last semester here at Safeguard Old State.) What we mean is actually pretty simple, though.

We believe it’s time that our administrators and planners begin focusing on education — not research or outreach — as the most important of our school’s three-fold mission as a land-grant university.

Since Dr. Spanier arrived in 1995, we went from being the Keystone state’s most reasonably priced public educational institution to being, as of this year, a “private school with a public mission” focusing primarily not on education but on “research,” according to Dr. Spanier in recent remarks.

A startling turn-around in ten years … from public to “private” university, from reasonably priced to financial monster, from focusing mainly on classroom education to research programs. And what have been the consequences?

Penn State is the educational leviathan of Pennsylvania. Despite Dr. Spanier’s assurances that our university is being “conservatively managed” by his administration, we’re confident from a broad analysis of the numbers that spending at Penn State is about as out of control as can be.

For instance, do you remember this insightful letter to the editor that appeared one year ago in the Centre Daily Times where Jude Spak, a resident of Patton Township, points out that highlights the fact that Penn State’s budget has exploded from $2.4 billion in 2002 to $3.4 billion in 2007.

This at a time when enrollment increased by only 3.1 percent. This meant a tuition increase from $8,008 in 2002 to $12,284 just five years later. It’s tough to imagine that even the accountants at Enron would have been able to pass off a 5-year, billion dollar spending increase as “conservative” fiscal management.

If there’s one resolution we hope that those who make the long-range decisions at our university take for 2009, it’s to return to the primarily mission of Penn State as education, and eschew needless spending for research and outreach so long as student tuition and state taxpayer appropriations are expected to cover the cost.

Our campus is beautiful, but so too is a real education that doesn’t break the bank.