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Barron Makes Recommendations to Improve Graduation Rate for Students with Lower Incomes

by on July 11, 2014 3:10 PM

Eric Barron addressed the Penn State Board of Trustees for the first time as president of Penn State focusing on the issue of education access and affordability.

Barron made his pitch during the board's meeting Friday at the Penn State Schuylkill campus in Schuylkill Haven. Specifically, Barron says students from lower-income brackets are more likely to borrow more money and less likely to graduate.

Barron says 66 percent of Penn students graduate with some debt, a percentage that has been consistent for the last 10 years ago. At the same time, the average debt amount has grown – from less than $20,000 to more than $35,000. Barron also says Penn State has seen student default rates increase since 2008.

"This is telling us that we have a number of students that because they don't have financial capability are entering the system and they're not graduating," Barron says.

Barron says students from lower income families have to borrow more money and work more hours. Families with earnings of less than $32,000 a year face an unmet need that amounts to about 30 percent of the cost of attending Penn State. Barron says that financial gap equates to a student spending fewer hours in the classroom, a lower graduation rate, and a reduction in the likelihood a student will receive a degree at all.

Barron says roughly $25 million could address that need for lower-income students in Pennsylvania and suggested Penn State create a fund that would help students close that gap. By addressing the gap, students would work fewer hours, spend more time in the classroom and graduate sooner, he says.

"We'll watch that student debt go down. We'll watch our student graduation rates go up. We'll see students graduate more quickly," Barron says. "Can we find that $20 or $30 million dollars to keep a Penn State promise?"

Barron also suggested Penn State offer discounted online courses during summer sessions to help ensure students graduate on time, reducing the amount students must borrow to earn their degree.

The board hired Barron in February. He officially joined Penn State in May with a five-year contract and $800,000 annual salary. The contract also includes a one-time payment of $200,000 upon hire followed by a $200,000 retention payment at the end of the year for the last four years of the contract. Upon completion of the five-year contract, the university will pay Barron an additional $1 million.

Barron replaced Rodney Erickson, who assumed responsibilities as president of Penn State on Nov. 9, 2011, following the indictment of former Penn State defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky, who is now a convicted pedophile. Erickson retired in May.

Barron worked at Penn State for 20 years, leaving eight years ago. He was a professor of geosciences, director of the Earth System Science Center, director of the Earth and Mineral Sciences Environmental Institute, and dean of the College of Earth and Mineral Sciences.

Barron became Florida State University's 14th president in 2010. He graduated from FSU in 1973 with a bachelor's degree in geology. He has master's and doctoral degrees from the University of Miami.

He previously served as director of the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colo. He also served as dean of the Jackson School of Geosciences at the University of Texas at Austin from 2006 to 2008.

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Jennifer Miller is a reporter for StateCollege.com. She has worked in journalism since 2005. She's covered news at the local, state and national level with an emphasis on crime and local government.
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