Trustees held their second meeting of 2016 this morning at the Penn Stater Conference Center to discuss a handful of issues faced by the university. Admission statistics, CAPS initiatives, LionPath, and alcohol highlighted the Committee on Academic Affairs and Student Life’s morning session, with university administrators providing insight on their vision concerning two integral components of student services.
The meeting began with a series of proposed name changes for a handful of departments across the Penn State system. Proposals to modify Altoona’s Division of Business and Engineering, University Park’s School of Languages and Literatures, the Department of Meteorology, and the Department of Anesthesiology all passed, meaning they will be brought before the full Board of Trustees during tomorrow’s session. Recommendations are reflected in the respective order that they were stated: Division of Business, Engineering, and Information Sciences and Technology; School of Global Languages, Literatures, and Cultures; Department of Meteorology and Atmospheric Science; Department of Anesthesiology and Preoperative Medicine in the College of Medicine.
The meeting grew interesting when it came time for university administrators to provide updates on their respective initiatives. Vice President and Dean of Undergraduate Education Robert Pangborn began with admissions statistics from the 2016-17 enrollment cycle. Overall, the numbers reflected an upward trajectory, with significant increases in a number of key areas. The incoming freshman class is expected to reach approximately 8,600 students, a 500 student increase from 2015-16. The university saw an 8.4 percent increase in the acceptance of offers on all levels despite fewer undergraduate applications. While the rise in student enrollment is always welcomed with open arms, a strain on housing comes as an unavoidable consequence. Pangborn projected there to be significant pressure on the housing department after a five percent increase on the previous class size watermark. Despite these housing concerns, Pangborn said that he’s working with the department in order to find a solution.
“To relieve some pressure, upperclass students that want to be released from their housing contracts may do so without surrendering their security deposit,” Pangborn said. “Also, we’ll be encouraging local students to save some money and commute from home if possible.”
Graduate student applications saw an increase of roughly six percent, along with a 29 percent increase in international student applications. Pangborn highlighted an increase in Chinese applicants, which increased significantly after China suffered a rough economic year in 2015 and caused that applicant figure to dip.
Pangborn’s next topic of discussion was the movement of all information systems (class scheduling, advising, admissions, billing, transcripts, etc.) to the new platform, which Pangborn said impacts everybody. The transition from Angel to LionPath came with heavy scrutiny from the student body — something Pangborn seemingly dismissed. He carried on optimistically about the service’s future and promised Penn State faculty that they’ll see improvements over Angel moving forward. He did admit that LionPath’s interface is “not as slick as Elion, but that will be improved over time.” Student Trustee Luke Metaxas pressed Pangborn on the issue of LionPath’s difficult navigability and the negative response from students. Pangborn admitted that no usability testing was done with the student body which only furthers the notion that university officials are somewhat oblivious to the glaring problems associated with the system.
As a student Trustee, Metaxas serves an important role in bridging the student body with the Board. He represents the voice of the students, and his pressing of Pangborn should be applauded.
Vice President of Student Affairs Damon Sims was up next to discuss his vision for CAPS moving forward. Numbers wise, Sims reported a 46 percent increase in CAPS scheduling and a 9.3 percent increase in the number of students who’ve had at least one appointment with CAPS. Despite these improvements, he said the issue of suicide still remains prevalent, with the number of suicides along with suicide attempts both up. Expansion serves as a major focal point of Sims’ grand vision, and the implementation of a CAPS councilor in the South residence halls will come as an experiment of sorts thanks to the 2016 senior class gift.
Sims aims to bring CAPS services physically closer to students, but in response to Metaxas’ further pressing of his grand vision, fundraising on a larger scale still remains an issue. Sims said he doesn’t foresee a large endowment on the horizon, but believes counciling will be supported, and that it should be emphasized. He reiterated that the idea of an embedded councilor in a residence hall is something that’s never been done before, and both time and money is needed as he searches for a solution.
The tail end of the meeting included updates on UPUA President Terry Ford’s smoke free campus initiative along with GPSA President Kevin Horne’s discussion on the consumption of alcohol by legal, responsible drinkers on campus, and how it’s ludicrous that they’re unable to do so in the residence halls. Horne’s presentation came after Sims lightly touched on the university’s dry campus policy, and how there have been discussions regarding certain details. Ford’s presentation included the addition of a student fee board, which he hopes would give the students more of a voice when it comes to the allocation of their money. Ford said this board would help allocate additional funding for CAPS on an interim scale while the university searches for alternative fundraising.