PSU President Wants to Decrease Student Loan Debt

By Mallory Lane

Published 05/22 2014 05:33PM

Updated 05/22 2014 05:53PM

PENN STATE, UNIVERSITY PARK - Penn State's newest president is settling into his role on the university's main campus.

Eric Barron is a couple of weeks into the job and he isn't wasting any time.

"I'm having a wonderful time," Barron said.

Barron has a packed schedule.

"I'm doing my best to be a sponge," he said. "I've traveled to 21 campuses in 15 days. I'm doing my best to learn as much as I possibly can."

As the 18th president of the university, Barron is hoping to tackle some big issues. He's narrowed it down to six major points to spark discussion at the university. Those include excellence, student engagement, diversity and demographics, student career success and economic development and technology.

There's another topic that's really taking center stage.

"Student accessibility. Incredibly important as you look at student debt and you look at cost," Barron said. "Of course, there are a lot of reasons why that cost is escalating and why the support you have is changing. The key to this is to be as accessible as possible, but never give up that quality."

In 2012, 74 percent of undergraduate students at Penn State graduated with some amount of student loan debt. Last year, the average loan debt for Penn State students graduating with a baccalaureate degree was $35,000. Two-thirds of students graduated with a little more than $26,000 of debt.

"It's also interesting to see that the number of need-based students coming to Penn State is still growing," Barron said. "This is also a message that says the perception of value here is very high."

Barron said even though that's true, they have to take as step back and look at where to save money.

"I think we'll turn around and start to comprehensively look in advance at the places we can save money," he said. "We'll set a target at the beginning of the year on the amount of money we want to save as a mechanism to be very conscious about savings and accessibility."

There has also been discussion over the past several years to change Penn State's status from a public entity to a private one. Barron said he is not in support of that.

"Would you want to take that state appropriation and turn it into a tuition increase in order to have a private status? I think that state appropriations that our legislators give us and the governor gives us is worth a great deal to the institution and its accessibility," he said. "I would not want to give that up."

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