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Penn State plans to increase enrollment at University Park, drawing mixed reactions

 Construction of the 158-unit oLiv Highland project at the intersection of Pugh Street and Foster Avenue in State College, Pa., on Feb. 7, 2024.
Anne Danahy
Construction of the 158-unit oLiv Highland project at the intersection of Pugh Street and Foster Avenue in State College, Pa., on Feb. 7, 2024.

Penn State recently unveiled a “road map” that outlines planning for everything from research to budgets. As part of that, the university says it’s looking at increasing enrollment at University Park, drawing mixed reactions from local residents.

Evan Myers, president of the State College borough council, is also a Penn State graduate.

“I think if we allow more students to come to University Park campus, that's a good thing. The more folks that get an education, and the more folks that can get an affordable education is a good thing for society, for the state of Pennsylvania and for State College.”

Myers, it should be noted, is Governor Shapiro’s non-voting representative to the Penn State board of trustees. He said more people in State College will mean more demands on infrastructure.

“It's not something that I'm lamenting. It's just the truth of it," he said. "It’s something we need to look at and plan for.”

State College has seen the number of Penn State students at University Park grow over the years, reaching 48,535 in fall 2013. Now, the university says it plans to increase the number of first-year students at University Park, from 9,175 to 9,500 starting this fall.

The goal is to eventually get to 10,000 new undergraduate students each year, according to the university’s recent announcement that gives an overview of current and upcoming plans.

In general, first-year students at University Park have to live on campus. But only for their first year. And the demand from students has meant more apartment buildings going up.

Ron Madrid, president of the Holmes Foster Neighborhood Association, next to the west side of campus, also sits on the State College Planning Commission. He is concerned about the impact of development.

“Many people are upset that the borough has changed dramatically in the last 10 years," he said.

Madrid said developers are willing to put up housing if the demand is there. While downtown is close to being built out, there is concern about the potential long-term effects.

“And I for one, who've lived here for 30 years now, don't want it to change anymore," he said. "And providing greater density and putting more units in the neighborhoods, to me, it's going to alter the character to a degree then, you know, I'll just move.”

Some residents say they have questions about the potential effects of a growing number of Penn State students: Will more first-year students living in dorms push other students off campus? Could that drive up rent? Will it mean more demands on infrastructure and public services in town? How will that be paid for?

Holmes Foster Neighborhood Association website

Mark Huncik is president of the Highlands Civic Association, a group for the State College neighborhood on the east side of town.

“I think Penn State’s success or viability is important to the whole region, not just the borough," he said.

Like others, he said more students will have an impact because it will mean more demand on local resources.

“I think the key is just, as always, we need to understand and there has to be realization that decisions have to be made based upon (Penn State's) decision," he said. "And we all have to be part of that. And the information has to come out in a fashion that's not just one news article.”

According to the university, Penn State will be looking at what changes need to be made to accommodate having more students. That includes physical infrastructure, faculty and staffing levels, and talking with “key groups” in the community and campus.

Copyright 2024 WPSU. To see more, visit WPSU.

Anne Danahy