One Penn State 2025 initiative continues efforts toward inclusive educational experience

The pursuit of education is not constructed as a one-size-fits-all. And even when higher learning has a strong foundation in the completion of a four-year degree immediately following high school, Penn State recognizes that there are many other pathways and educational experiences that are sought by today’s diverse learners, and it strives to become their university for life.

That’s where work on One Penn State 2025 – one of five signature initiatives in the University’s 2016-2025 strategic plan – continues to make advancements toward its goal to reimagine student learning and support services across all Penn State campus locations. The initiative was borne of the Penn State Strategic Plan’s priority to transform education by fulfilling its 21st-century land-grant mission while expanding access to education, promoting diversity and inclusion, and driving research and discovery.

The team leading the charge on rethinking some of the most fundamental approaches to how the University structures learning and operates to support student services is made up of five cross-functional work teams. Comprised of nearly 150 faculty, advisers, academic administrators, executives, and academic, business, and IT professionals from across the University, as well as student delegates, each team represents one of the guiding principles of One Penn State 2025, which include:

  • Guiding Principle 1 – Provide a seamless student experience
  • Guiding Principle 2 – Achieve curricular coherence
  • Guiding Principle 3 – Design relevant and responsive programs
  • Guiding Principle 4 – Engage learners throughout their lifetimes
  • Guiding Principle 5 – Achieve the highest level of efficiency of University resources

In the last year, the guiding principle teams held a virtual symposium, One Penn State 2025 – Realizing Transformation Symposium, that included the ongoing work of the teams and celebrated the successful implementation of pilot projects. Symposium sessions encompassed a variety of topics, including engaging learners throughout their lifetime, faculty communities, creating streamlined student business processes, data-driven decision making, and others. A second symposium is in the works for this fall.

Guiding principle groups have continued to move forward, identifying ways to support collaboration and direct resources toward becoming more integrated, flexible, and responsive as an institution, which includes providing Penn State students with seamless 24/7 online access to curricula and processes across the University. Members of the One Penn State 2025 Executive Committee have also worked to conduct regular outreach and various informational presentations around the University.

Removing barriers

Because “providing a seamless student experience” touches many facets of the University’s business transactions, including academic, administrative, and co-curricular points of contact, the Guiding Principle 1 group takes a multi-faceted approach to enhancing the student experience. The group has been reaching out to various University stakeholders and partners to conduct meetings on mutual goals and process improvements, including the Budget Task Force, the Nittany AI Alliance, and the Policies Influencing Equity Task Force. The group is currently in discussions for focused work on providing students access to centralized resources for navigating the university – such as electronic medical records, a digital information desk, or student ombudsman position.

“Students select Penn State in pursuit of high-quality, world-class education,” said Yvonne Gaudelius, vice president and dean for Undergraduate Education and One Penn State 2025 co-chair. “It is our mission to remove barriers that might hinder their access or academic success by providing a seamless experience in all interactions with the University.”

Seamless curriculum

As part of its charge to achieve curricular coherence, the Guiding Principle 2 group has focused heavily on the importance of educational communities—faculty, staff, and administrators —who come together regularly to develop, plan, and deliver lifelong education to Penn State undergraduate or graduate students. Recognizing existing resources and benchmarking for improvement has helped Penn State leaders create educational communities to develop and collaborate across the University.

Along with the University Faculty Senate, Survey Research Center, Social Science Research Institute, and the Office of Planning, Assessment, and Institutional Research (OPAIR), the group initiated a faculty survey in 2021. The end goals of the survey included helping to identify educational communities at Penn State, developing methods for their growth and development, creating seamless and meaningful pathways for curriculum, and ultimately providing support for faculty to advance these communities. The group agreed that the first step in the survey process was to understand which strong educational communities exist at Penn State, how they came to be, how they are sustained, and what resources are available to them and/or are still needed. To that end, the first round of surveys was delivered to faculty across the University in the spring and summer of 2021, with the results serving as a basis for further research as the group seeks to encourage and support faculty and staff to engage in communities that foster a consistent curriculum for students.

The group provided Faculty Senate members with survey findings during the January 2022 Senate meeting, inviting continued Senate engagement in ongoing conversations supporting educational communities’ curricular work, and made plans to hold focus groups of faculty and staff during the fall semester to deepen understanding around these communities.

Evolving education

As Penn State grows to meet 21st-century expectations for offering degree programs, the Guiding Principle 3 group has been exploring ways to have educational opportunities that are more agile in responding to societal and workforce needs and learner interests. One area of exploration which builds on a report generated by the Penn State Online Coordinating Council involves a unified approach to micro-credentials, badging, and non-credit experiences on all campuses. Members of the group have also worked on increasing student access to summer courses through a shared marketing approach, which would broaden awareness of summer offerings and significantly increase access to courses and programs for all students regardless of their campus assignment.

The group includes four workgroups (1) societal and professional competency needs, (2) pre-college programs, (3) course repository, and (4) micro-credentials, with plans to spend the next year advancing prioritized objectives that fall into each of these categories.

University for life

One Penn State 2025 aims to engage learners for a lifetime by providing them with access to educational opportunities that are timely, topical, and relevant to their personal and professional wellbeing at all stages. By leveraging existing models, such as those in Penn State Extension and executive training programs, and by constructing a system of access for learners that supports the variety of needs that they have, Penn State will become their university for life. The Guiding Principle 4 group is designing a pilot website to present Penn State’s non-credit programming to prospective students across the Commonwealth in a unified, user-friendly manner.

The work of the lifelong learning team combined with the teams working on curricular coherence and responsive curricula provide a powerful combination of efforts to address contemporary learners’ needs. “We want students and the larger University community to have ongoing access to educational opportunities to advance their careers and interests throughout their lifetime,” said Vice Provost for Online Education and One Penn State 2025 co-chair, Renata Engel. “Under this model, graduation is no longer an endpoint, and students are always connected to Penn State. They know us, and we know them and can serve them in whatever education endeavors they may have.”

Optimizing resources

Guiding Principle 5 continues to focus on achieving the highest level of efficiency while balancing the University’s mission of teaching, service, and research. The group has recently streamlined its subcommittees to focus on data-informed decision making, workstream optimization, and collaborations in teaching and research; each subcommittee has work in progress and/or a project in development.

Group members also continue to be active supporters of several University-wide initiatives, including OPAIR’s development of the Institutional Data Repository (IDR), a cloud-based framework with the capability to quickly expand the data repository while providing a secure and user-friendly environment to access data; and progress on Information Technology’s Informatica data integration platform that will allow enhanced data integrity and data quality, faster connections between data sources, and seamless knowledge transfer between systems.