Jay Paterno’s Board Of Trustees Campaign Steadfast In Pursuit Of ‘Affordability Access’
Though he’s served on the Penn State Board of Trustees since 2017, Jay Paterno’s relationship with Penn State long predates earning that position.
The son of legendary football coach Joe Paterno, Jay Paterno was raised in the State College area before graduating in 1991 with a degree in social and political science.
“Penn State is unique because it’s always had a family feel,” Paterno said. “And I don’t mean my own family, but Penn Staters. There’s always been a sense of community.”
As an incumbent, Paterno expressed pride in his accomplishments with the Board of Trustees, particularly in his steadfast voting record against Penn State tuition increases.
During his time on the board, Penn State introduced a solar array in Franklin County responsible for 25% of the university’s energy statewide and a plan to refinance pensions — actions that Paterno said saved $14 million and $50 to $60 million, respectively. Paterno hopes these outcomes are building blocks for similar solutions from the board in the future.
Continuing the push to increase affordability access for students is among Paterno’s top priorities upon reelection. Paterno prefers to address currently entrenched inefficiencies before considering tuition increases.
“There are efficiencies that we can find. There are new revenue streams we can find. There [is] cost cutting we can find to make us more efficient,” Paterno said. “I’d rather see us err on that side rather than going to students and families that work very hard to put kids in college.”
“Are we duplicating? Do we need an HR department in every college? We may. But, we won’t know unless we ask,” Paterno continued.
Another set of Paterno’s ideas to stave off increased tuition surround speeding up students’ path to graduation. The incumbent trustee candidate floated decreasing the number of required general education courses and creating a reimagined hub of academic advising at the university.
“When you climb Mount Everest, you get a sherpa. We need graduation sherpas so to speak, so the advising is all streamlined,” Paterno said.
“They’re not big, sexy answers to the outside world, but they mean real dollars,” Paterno continued. “And $14 to $15 million in savings can save us a 1% tuition increase for in-state students. Every bit helps.”
Paterno believes affordability access will only become increasingly pertinent for the university’s long-term success. The candidate cited a recent poll showing “roughly 70% of people aged 35 to 49” doubt taking out student loans for college is worth the return on investment.
“That’s the generation that is starting to send their kids to college or very shortly will, so we’re gonna have to demonstrate that speed to graduation is a way to bring the total cost down,” Paterno said. “Where maybe we can’t necessarily get massive cuts in terms of your tuition bill, year over year, we may be able to find 20% savings if we get you out one year earlier or one semester earlier.”
Paterno’s focus on financial well-being isn’t strictly limited to the academic side of Penn State. As a longtime college football coach, including at Penn State, Paterno is similarly eager to begin updating athletic facilities.
Although renovating Beaver Stadium was atop Paterno’s list of chief athletic concerns, modernizing the Natatorium and sprucing up Jeffrey Field were similarly listed as pressing needs.
“At Penn State, we have competed in all 31 sports. And anybody that believes that we can’t do it or that we have to emphasize on just one or two or three sports really underestimates how powerful Penn State is,” Paterno said.
On the athletic front, Paterno faced criticism on his stances on Penn State’s Name, Image, and Likeness strategies recently, most notably from former linebacker Michael Mauti. In a series of tweets, Mauti accused Paterno of undermining alignment efforts between the university and the athletic department, specifically in the space of NIL.
Paterno vehemently disagreed, saying he was “the most forward thinker on the board” regarding NIL. The candidate specifically highlighted the Success With Honor collective, which he co-founded. As a result of his position on the board, Paterno was advised by legal counsel not to make large donations or engage with the operational functions of the collective.
“The first thing is: NIL is not a Board of Trustees issue. Nor should it be. The whole point of NIL is the marketplace dictates what goes on, so anybody trying to make it a trustee issue is really misplaced,” Paterno said.
“The mischaracterization has been that there was some kind of reasoning behind [co-founding Success With Honor] other than wanting to try and put something in place for everybody because there was nobody there,” Paterno continued. “It’s been run by other people since we got started. So, I haven’t been involved [on] a day-to-day basis.”
Paterno also faced criticism about supporting his father, Joe, especially as the university appears to be embracing a different approach in regard to the former coach. During the past football season, Joe was shown more often and more explicitly during pregame videos than in years past — something Jay adamantly denied any part in.
“There’s really a misperception people have about me [and] when I got on the board — ‘he’s running to get the statue put back up and to clear his dad’s name,'” Paterno said. “I ran because I care about Penn State, because I felt like I could have a real impact on the university from this standpoint for students. I never brought those issues up. I’d never initiate those conversations, nor do I want to.”
Above all, Paterno said he is most focused on supporting the Penn State community as a whole. Improved mental health options, housing and food insecurity programs, and public safety campaigns such as active shooter trainings are pillars of Paterno’s community-focused platform.
“Penn State made a great video two to three years ago, maybe more, on run, hide, fight,” Paterno said. “And that video has been sitting on the shelf and it’s never been mandated to be shown. After Michigan State, we continued to push on that, and [active shooter training] is going to be something that all students go through.”
Paterno hopes that, through student outreach, public safety, and the continuation of his previous work on the board, he can help cultivate an environment that is easy to identify with, just as he has throughout his life.
“Once you start to look at these issues, we’ve got to start with that core of students and work outward. All those things come off of that,” Paterno said. “The better off we do with our students that are here and the more connection they feel to Penn State, the better we become as a university.”
Voting for this year’s trustee election will close on May 4. Eligible alumni can request ballots through this online form.
Editor’s note: Paterno’s interview is one of a multi-part series that aims to feature alumni running for open seats on the Board of Trustees. Onward State does not, and will not, endorse any candidate(s) in this election. Check out our site to read more about the seven remaining candidates vying for spots on the board throughout this year’s election cycle.
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