Goal 4: Maintain Access, Affordability and Enhance Diversity
Strategy 4.2: Invest Selectively in Capital Improvements and Student Services at the Campuses
In recent years, many of the public and private universities with which Penn State competes for students have invested considerable sums in facilities and services to make their campuses attractive to prospective students, most of whom have considerable choice in their college selection decisions. The vitality of the Commonwealth campuses, in particular, depends upon both the academic and physical attributes and attractiveness they display, as well as the quality of student services. Considerable additional investment in new and newly remodeled facilities has characterized Penn State’s campuses over the past decade, and numerous capital projects are currently under way, but additional selective investments will be necessary to maintain and enhance competitiveness. Significant central funding for classroom improvements, including technology enhancements, have greatly improved the physical environment for teaching and learning. Nonetheless, a need continues for selective investments to improve the physical facilities and “curb appeal” of many of our campuses, as well as support for facilities and services that improve student life at both residential and commuter campuses. Selective investments in physical facilities should be coupled with consideration of additional selective investment in the student programs that give purpose to the facilities on our campuses. The aesthetics of the campuses should be matched by the experiences they offer, and both facilities and services must be selectively enhanced if we are to attract the students we seek.
Given that nontraditional and returning adult students (aged 24 and older) will make up an increasingly larger segment of future college-going population, the provision of appropriate student services is also vitally important. Penn State’s Commonwealth campuses, in particular, must expand their programming and efforts to reach the nontraditional student population at the same time as efforts continue to be directed toward capturing a larger segment of the traditional-aged college students.
Curricular and co-curricular programming and accommodations for nontraditional students tend to be different from those designed for the typical 18- to 22-year-old college student. Returning adult and nontraditional students typically are highly career focused, are more settled in their choice of major, and some bring prior course work and past professional experiences. Most work either full- or part-time, and many have family responsibilities. They are often not able to attend classes at the conventional daytime hours and need access to educational services on evenings and weekends. Many also have unique needs in terms of student financial assistance or veteran’s benefits. These special circumstances must be factored into the programming and operations of our campuses if Penn State is to serve a larger number of returning adult and nontraditional students, and stay competitive in this area.
The majority of students on most of Penn State’s campuses, however, will continue to be traditional-aged students, many who are seeking a residential college experience. Half of Penn State’s campuses with undergraduate degree programs have student residence halls on campus. Over the years, the practice has been to invest in student housing where additional residence hall investments would help to achieve greater efficiencies and where student demand was sufficiently high to fill residence halls on a permanent basis. Thus, much of the additional student housing over the past quarter-century was constructed at campuses such as University Park, Erie, Harrisburg, Altoona, and Berks. Such construction has undoubtedly aided those campuses in attracting additional students from outside the campus service areas who are interested in a residential student-life experience. The building of limited additional housing where housing already existed, coupled with scarce capital resources competing with academic needs, resulted in virtually no change in the relative distribution of University-operated student residences. Furthermore, there was little interest on the part of Penn State either in permitting non-University business interests from building student housing on campus lands or partnering with outside developers who wished to construct housing on the perimeter of campus land.
A task force has recently been appointed to (re)examine the issue of student housing options on campuses that currently lack such facilities or have a small number of rooms. This task force will explore alternative models of partnerships to lay the groundwork for what would be necessary for the University to engage in such ventures. Obviously, many issues must be addressed, including whether or not the housing would be built on University land (and, if so, what sort of building standards would have to be followed), how the University could ensure adequate oversight of students and their activities, whether campuses have the staff and programmatic capacity and resources to accommodate the shift from a nonresidential to residential learning environment, and the nature of partnership arrangements that might be appropriate with private developers. Not all campuses would be considered, given the different land and community constraints, demographic futures, critical mass of students, and existence of prospective developers. Nonetheless, the consideration of additional student housing should be undertaken.