AG Futures Status Update

Posted: January 28, 2011

Summary of progress and next steps on the AG Futures process.

Status Update and Summary: January 28, 2011

Anticipating emerging challenges facing Pennsylvania and the college, more than a year ago the Penn State College of Agricultural Sciences recognized the need for organizational change and began a process designed to develop and implement a new business model for the college and address budget strategies.

Facilitating strategic thinking and innovation, this initiative builds on the college strategic plan and includes various, intensive sub-processes, which will intersect to direct college decision-making. The intent is to emerge as a stronger, more agile college well positioned to address the future.

The process — later termed AG Futures — incorporates data from various sub-planning processes, which are designed to:

  • Evaluate college programs and priorities
  • Identify areas of strategic opportunity and growth
  • Address the Penn State university-wide review process
  • Balance the strategic vision with budget realities

The first phase of the process is complete, and a college roadmap has been developed to chart the course. The process to date has been transparent, with information posted on the college website (, and has extensively engaged both internal and external stakeholders.

In tandem, the University is also addressing the need for change. Shifting demographics, rising costs of operation, a changing competitive landscape, reductions in state appropriations, pressures for accountability, and widespread economic downturn characterize the environment in which Penn State currently operates. These pressures demand the University transform in order to thrive.

As a result, all Penn State colleges and campuses are undergoing internal evaluation as part of the second year of the University strategic plan in an effort to strengthen academic quality and control costs, as well as maintain access and affordability for students.

College deans have received recommendations in the form of letters from the Core Council (officially known as the Academic Program and Administrative Services Core Council — headed by the provost on proposed curricular and organizational changes. The Core Council sought input from across the University, and all deans had input into the process.

The process is data-driven — based on program enrollments, costs, demand, efficacy, duplication, future outlook as far as market demand, etc., along with input from those in the affected units.

The college recently received its recommendations from the Core Council as part of Penn State's overall strategic planning process. The college’s extensive planning progress to date puts it in an excellent position to swiftly and strategically respond to the Council’s recommendations. Specific recommendations from the Core Council for the College of Agricultural Sciences include:

  • Consolidate academic units
  • Reduce/remove under-enrolled courses*
  • Participate in university-wide reorganization of life sciences graduate programs*
  • Seek new revenue generation opportunities*
  • Evaluate & adjust livestock & land holdings*
  • Re-examine cooperative extension operations*

The Council’s recommendations were issues anticipated by the college, and five of the six recommendations were already actively being addressed through the AG Futures process (*).

The college is currently implementing a process to address the most challenging of the Council’s recommendations — the consolidation of academic units.  This restructuring will be focused on maximizing synergies across resident instruction, extension education, and research programs in order to focus on emerging opportunities, better leverage resources across the college and the university, and reduce costs, while continuing to provide outstanding quality for students.

Six teams, consisting largely of college faculty, will undertake this effort over the next month; the team reports will then collectively guide the creation of a draft proposal anticipated to be presented in mid-March.

It is important to note that regardless of the college structure moving forward, students currently enrolled in program majors will have the opportunity to complete their academic majors without interruption.

The college does face unique challenges within Penn State, which the AG Futures process is, in part, intended to address. The college’s agriculture research and cooperative extension programs — bringing research-based solutions to bear on Pennsylvania priorities and reaching all of the Commonwealth’s 67 counties — are unique to the college and are funded through individual lines in the Penn State non-preferred appropriations bill.

Funding over the past 8 years in these lines has increased an average of approximately only 1 percent per year, while the state budget has gone up more than 36 percent in the same time frame and basic education almost 50 percent.

The state relied on federal stimulus funds (ARRA) for 2010/2011 to keep Penn State at flat funding at 2008/2009 levels. Stimulus funds, which make up 6 percent of the college’s state base funding, expire in June 2011. If these funds are not restored in the college’s 2011/12 appropriation, this, combined with increased operating costs, will result in the college facing a two year programmatic budget shortfall of almost $11 million.  

The college continues to take aggressive measures to implement cost-saving strategies as well as to secure adequate funding.  The number of layoffs and program cutbacks necessary to address the budget realities will not be known until the legislature passes the 2011/12 Penn State budget.