President-elect Eric Barron has been on campus for several weeks now preparing for his first official day on May 12. He has mostly stayed under the radar, but for the first time ever this afternoon, Penn State’s 18th president addressed a large group of Penn State students in an official and public capacity.
The Council of Commonwealth Student Governments hosted Barron for a 45 minute discussion in Alumni Hall during its final council weekend of the year.
Here are some highlights from his discussion:
On what he’s been up to:
- “I’ve been to 12 Commonwealth Campuses and have met with dozens of faculty, staff, students, and administrators. My goal has been to listen and the goal is, when I become president, to know the most that I possibly can.”
- “I’ve learned a lot. At these campuses, there’s a real sense of pride, a real sense of community. They say, ‘We know each other — we know each other’s names — we have each other’s backs.’ Each campus has a sense of uniqueness while also being part of the Penn State family.”
On what being a “student-centered” university means:
- “It sounds good to everyone saying you’re student-centered, and I’d have a hard time going to any university that won’t tell you they’re student-centered.”
- “I want everybody to graduate in a timely fashion. A three percent tuition increase — roughly $480. That hurts. But the worst tuition increase you can have in the world is to go another year.”
- “The quality of what we offers really matters. We want you to have a high level of confidence when you go out and start your career.”
On questions we need to ask ourselves:
- “Are we welcoming on day one? Are there populations that struggle to be a part of our community? Maybe it’s the adult learner, the veteran, or the transfer student. We need to do a good job of being a community so we can retain these individuals. Are we welcoming and inclusive to anyone and everyone?”
- “There are so many times when you go I really do a good job, but there are people that don’t really feel that you do. Can we build that sense of scholarly community?”
- “Do we have a path to choose a major when you don’t know what you’re doing and are still in a discovery phase so that you can still graduate in a timely manner?”
- “Do we have an academic map that will guide you and warn you if it’s going to take more time to get your degree? Do we provide access to all of the courses you need to graduate in a timely fashion? Do we provide access to the diversity and breadth of courses that a comprehensive and truly remarkable environment like Penn State has to offer?”
- “Are you being enriched beyond your major? Are the courses engaging, content rich, valuable, and challenging? Do we deliberately promote career success? Do we provide those skills that employers are looking for while also providing a world class education?”
- “Do we have the services that protect and enable students? Do we have victim advocates? Do we foster student engagement?”
On the importance of student engagement:
- “I come at engagement purely at a perspective of data. We know if students are engaged in worthwhile activities 10-20 hours a week, they’re less likely to get in trouble. They tend to be healthier and happier”.
- “You can also look at entire populations of students who are engaged and not engaged. Healthier, happier, better resume, better job. Universities must be incredibly active in making sure students are engaged.”
- “I want to find a university where there are lots of opportunities for student leadership. My entire time at Florida State, the president of the student body was a sitting and voting trustee.”
On the value of Penn State:
- “You come to Penn State, you stay, you finish, you launch a good career. We want to offer you real value, true excellence, and I want the experience of every student to be transformative. I want great to be even greater. I want this experience to be so transformative to Penn State students that later on in life they give back.”
- “Our campaign For the Future, which focused on the students, had more alumni giving back than in every other institution in the country. I want it to be this way at every campaign, because you have the idea that this experience here is so great and so transformative that you can’t help but give back.”
On Penn State’s biggest challenges:
- “The first thing is budget — walking that tight rope between affordability and quality. Obviously tuition is an issue.
- “I think we have a large national issue about the good news of Penn State getting out there. The only thing people want to report are the things that are controversial and not good news. They seem to foget about all the good things that are going on. We have all of these great stories, so how is it that we can’t get these stories out?”
On state appropriations:
- “At Florida State, we got the first budget increase after six years of cuts. Only two universities got that.”
- “We have a very clear message. State support subsidizes tuition. This was a commitment states made when they created public higher education.”
On his personal engagement with students:
- “I’m happy to come back. Next time you’re in town we should have a reception at the house so we can have some casual time as well. You will find that I enjoy staying in contact. I hope that your leadership decides that it would be worthwhile to pass things on and I will take student appointments any time.”