Should Penn State Close Some Branch Campuses?

Penn State BrehendAmong the dire predictions made by Penn State President Graham Spanier in response to Gov. Tom Corbett’s proposed budget cuts is that the university will have to close branch campuses. With many cost-saving options, one should question whether those statements are valid, or simply another tactic to lobby for more taxpayer funding.

But let’s just assume the 4 percent cut to Penn State’s budget will require the closing of some satellite campuses—is that necessarily a bad thing?

For starters, many of the 19 branch campuses have seen significant declines in enrollment, even as college enrollment is booming. The Tribune Review reports enrollment declined at 11 branches over the past eight years, while enrollment at all four-year colleges rose by 16 percent.

Much of this is due to PSU’s satellites losing students to lower-cost competitors, including community colleges, for-profit schools and online options. Today, many branch campuses are near other more affordable options. For instance, Penn State Beaver is in the same town as the Community College of Beaver County.

Further, many of Penn State’s campuses have extremely low-graduation rates. In many cases, fewer than 20 percent of enrollees graduate in four years, and only about one-third of students earn a degree in 6 years. It seems taxpayers are not getting their money’s worth from these satellite campuses, and continued subsidies encourage students to attend schools that might not be the best option for them.

A consolidation of branch campuses might not be such a bad thing after all.