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The Sentinel

An Eye on the Penn State Administration


Graham Spanier, Editorials & Financial Accountability

The Centre Daily Times recently ran an editorial lauding the Penn State Alumni Association for its recent creation of a $2.1 million dollar fund that will allow for 35 new annual scholarships to be awarded to financially strapped students at the University.

Alumni Group Leads By Example (CDT) April 28 — The Penn State Alumni Association wanted, in the words of its executive director, Roger Williams, “to step up and exert leadership by example.” It did.

Last week, in response to the ever-escalating cost of attending the most expensive public university in the country, the association pledged $2.1 million to establish 35 scholarships based on financial need.

Alumni wanted to “make sure they were doing something to profoundly ease the burden of cost on students on their families,” Williams explained.

But as generous and commendable as the alumni association’s gift is, it represents the proverbial drop in a very large bucket — and a leaky bucket, at that.

But other groups within the Penn State community are also stepping up with some much-needed water in the form of scholarship money to financially parched students.

In February, the Penn State Faculty Senate announced that it will endow faculty-sponsored scholarships for undergraduates.

These efforts are part of the For the Future campaign designed, according its mission statement, “to increase scholarship support to keep a Penn State education affordable for all families.”

That is, after all, the purpose of a land-grant university.

We hope university officials will also take a good look at the bucket and apply a few patches where appropriate.

Isn’t it telling of the state of affairs at Penn State under President Spanier that it’s the faculty and alumni who are left carrying the water when it comes to the stunning cost of education at Pennsylvania’s land-grant university? Why should it fall to the faculty and alumni to find ways to mitigate the enormous cost of our tuition (which has more than doubled in the past ten years alone) when it was the administration’s profligate, unchecked spending that has brought us where we are now?

Furthermore, the editorial fails to explain the reason for the “leaky bucket” and misses the opportunity to address the three core issues at Penn State: tuition, financial transparency and taxpayer appropriations These issues are inherently linked.

Pennsylvania legislators don’t approve the massive appropriation increases request by President Spanier because they cannot be sure where and how the money will be spent, and most importantly whether the taxpayer funds will measurably benefit the student body.

As a result, President Spanier announces an annual tuition increase — typically between 5-8 percent — and gets away with it by laying blame on the legislature for now rubber-stamping an increased taxpayer investment.

All the while, the lack of financial transparency on the part of the administration obscures this annual process, making it impossible for the legislators or the citizens of the Commonwealth to go on anything other than President Spanier’s claim that Penn State administrators are always striving to do “more with less.”

For the citizen taxpayers of the Commonwealth who are asked every year to fork over more of their money to an administration at Penn State that stubbornly refuses to show where that money is going or to prove that there is little to no administrative waste, there’s a simple solution: trust, but verify.

In other words, grant the Pennsylvania State University more taxpayer funding, but do so on the condition that the administration must at least make public the data on how that $360 million or so is spent. In this way, the citizens can receive more than an empty promise from President Spanier, and maybe the student body can, for once, benefit from more taxpayer funding of their education.

In the mean time, the Penn State Alumni Association’s new scholarship fund will likely follow the law of unintended consequences, and end up hurting the very financially strapped students of Penn State it was designed to help, as President Spanier will now be able to issue another massive tuition increase for 42,000 at University Park and at the same time brazenly argue that thanks to a new fund designed to help 35, Penn State administrators are somehow committed to keeping our state education affordable.

Will anyone outside of Old Main believe it?

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