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Q&A with Board of Trustees Chairman Keith Masser: On Tuition, Alumni and Serving his Alma Mater

by on February 07, 2013 6:19 AM

Penn State alumnus and President of Sterman Masser Inc., Keith Masser was sworn in as the new chairman of the Penn State Board of Trustees on Jan. 18 after serving as vice chairman. 

In his acceptance speech, Masser said his mission is to make Penn State tuition more affordable for students, both current and prospective. 

He spoke with about his new role as chairman, his top priorities for the board and what's to come in the new year. 

 Q: What do you consider to be your No. 1 priority for the board as chairman?

Masser: As I said in my acceptance speech, my number one priority is to ensure Penn State education remains affordable and accessible. I realize hardships it places on families and students.

We basically have two sources of funding: state support and tuition. There's a third, with the endowment and scholarships. Our endowment is extremely important in maintaining a balance.

Just last week, the governor said he's proposing to keep our state support level, so it is coming, which should allow Penn State to keep our tuition increase at record lows.

Q: You're an alum and father to Penn State graduates, so, is this something important to you on a personal level? 

Masser: It is. I was a first generation college student and Penn State was an institution that was accessible to me and I want to make sure students of the Commonwealth have the same benefit.

Q: How can you repair the relationship between the board and Penn State's alumni base?

Masser: We're socializing with the alumni base. My wife and my two children are alumni, my business is run by Penn State alumni and there are alumni at my church and in all the social settings I'm involved in.

I'm constantly in contact with members of Penn State's alumni base. I listen – there are going to be things that alumni disagree on –[but] everyone that attended Penn State wants whats best for the university. I have to make sure [the relationship] is the strongest as we move forward, and collaboration will be the key to our success. There will be common points of agreement to help unify us.

It was Bill Cosby who said, "I don't know the key to success, but the key to failure is trying to please everybody."

We have a large alumni base and I believe in finding common ground. 

Q: What steps can be taken to ensure tuition increases stay minimal? 

There's several things. The student voice needs to be heard, we need to lobby Harrisburg for increased support. I think we can be successful. We're getting level funding and if all stateholders work together to help convinve the citizens of Pennsylvania it's important that we keep higher education affordable, that's one step to get society to consider higher education as a priority, that we can maintain and hopefully increase our level of state funding.

We have to look for strategies. In the face of shrinking state support, costs and fees needs to be a priority. We need to adovacte wherever we go and keep a focus on funding.

I believe we can turn the economic state of Pa. around.

Other states that share our borders are investing in higher education and that puts us at a serious disadvantage. We need to keep discussing [options]. 

There has certainly been good news ... I believe the administration in Harrisburg is trying to do what they can.

What are you looking forward to in the coming year for the board?

We have a great opportunity as a lot of things are happening. We have a presidential search, and we have to hire someone within the next year. We're going to see more work done with our compliance to help ensure commitment, our promise that we're going to make all of our campuses safe.

We're looking at governance changes to our board so that we can provide the proper oversight.

There's a lot happening. I'm excited to be part of the leaderiship and lead that team. I'm honored and fortunate to be part of it.

Laura Nichols is a news reporter and @LC_Nichols on Twitter.
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