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At Penn State, New Students Weigh Stigma Of Scandal

Aug 24, 2012
Originally published on August 24, 2012 7:47 pm

A freshman class is arriving at Penn State this week. But a child sexual abuse scandal that rocked the school last fall is casting a shadow over the school's "Welcome Week."

Last month a scathing report faulted university leaders — including former head football coach Joe Paterno — for failing to protect victims. Retired assistant coach Jerry Sandusky was convicted in June of sexually abusing 10 boys. He's in jail awaiting sentencing.

"I just sort of put it behind me," says Samuel Russ of Germantown, Md., as he pushes a red cart full of his belongings toward Penn State's freshman dorms. "I just try to forget."

That's a common sentiment around campus, though many are quick to express concern for Sandusky's victims too. Still, new students and their parents have some pragmatic questions about how the scandal will affect them.

Last week, word came that Penn State's accreditation is in jeopardy. University officials say they will demonstrate full compliance with the accrediting body by a Sept. 30 deadline.

"I was a little concerned about the reputation, also, graduating from Penn State," says Jill Beck of Brogue, Pa. Her son, Jacob, will be a freshman and she worries the scandal will affect what potential employers think about Penn State.

Despite that, Jacob chose Penn State after visiting more than a half-dozen other schools.

"It's still the same school that does mostly the same things and there's a lot to Penn State other than football," says Jacob Beck.

Incoming freshman Devon Mayer is confident Penn State will eventually rise above the scandal. But she's also worried about the cost, literally.

"I was afraid it would come out in our tuition and that the Penn State students would have to pay for the lawsuits and everything," says Mayer.

Penn State faces $60 million in NCAA fines. On top of that Pennsylvania has made deep cuts in higher education funding.

"We're fairly well-positioned in terms of insurance and other resources that are well beyond the current tuition that students are paying to provide for all of these expenses," says Damon Sims, vice president for student affairs. He says in-state tuition of about $15,000 went up only 3 percent this year.

A lot of people choose Penn State for the experience — the irrepressible school pride and a life-long community of alumni. Sims believes new students will still experience that despite this

And so far, Penn State is still a popular choice for new college students. The university reports it will exceed its enrollment goal as the fall term begins.

(NPR National Desk correspondent Jeff Brady is based in Philadelphia.)

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

A new freshman class is arriving at Penn State this week. Last month, a scathing report faulted university leaders - including former football coach Joe Paterno - for failing to protect victims in last fall's child sexual abuse scandal. NPR's Jeff Brady reports the scandal doesn't appear to have hurt enrollment at the school.

JEFF BRADY, BYLINE: In the parking lot outside Penn State's freshman dorms, Samuel Russ of Germantown, Maryland, is pushing a red bin across the parking lot with his mother, Rina.

SAMUEL RUSS: Yeah, I got a lot of shoes, got some nice suits.

RINA: Beddings.

RUSS: Beddings. You know, television and some...

RINA: Toiletries.

RUSS: Toiletries, a lot of toiletries.

BRADY: As Russ moves into his new dorm, he says he's tired of hearing about the Jerry Sandusky scandal.

RUSS: I just sort of put it behind me. I don't really like to hear that much. I just try to forget it. Yeah.

BRADY: That's a common sentiment here, but new students and parents still have some questions. Last week, word came that Penn State's accreditation is in jeopardy. University officials say they will demonstrate full compliance with the accrediting body by a September 30th deadline. Still, it's on parent Jill Beck's mind.

JILL BECK: I was a little concerned about the reputation, also, graduating from Penn State that, you know, the scandal was all anybody is going to remember because it's recent history.

BRADY: Beck's son, Jacob, visited more than a half dozen colleges before choosing Penn State.

JACOB BECK: Even though all this is happening and that's at the forefront of everyone's mind, it's still the same school that does mostly the same things, and there's a lot to Penn State other than football.

BRADY: In front of a nearby dorm, Karen Mayer says she graduated from Penn State in 1985. Now, her daughter Devon is moving into the freshman dorms.

KAREN MAYER: I want her to enjoy her experience and not have herself be bogged down by this horrendous event.

BRADY: Mayer is confident Penn State will eventually rise above the scandal. Her daughter Devon agrees, but she's also worried about the cost, literally.

DEVON MAYER: I was afraid it would come out in our tuition, and that the Penn State students would have to pay for the lawsuits and everything.

BRADY: Penn State's football program faces $60 million in NCAA fines. On top of that, Pennsylvania has made deep cuts in higher education funding.

(SOUNDBITE OF CHIMES)

BRADY: Over at the university's administration building, Damon Sims is vice president for student affairs. He says in-state tuition of about $15,000 a year went up only 3 percent this year.

DAMON SIMS: We're fairly well-positioned in terms of insurance and other resources that are well beyond the current tuition that students are paying to provide for all of these expenses.

BRADY: A lot of people choose Penn State for the experience, the irrepressible school pride and a lifelong community of alumni. Sims believes new students will still experience that despite this scandal.

SIMS: And, in fact, maybe even better because I think we, as a university, the faculty and staff, are even more determined than ever to demonstrate to them and to the world what, essentially, Penn State is all about.

BRADY: That message appears to be reaching the students on this campus. Penn State reports it will exceed its enrollment goal as the fall term begins. Jeff Brady, NPR News, State College, Pennsylvania. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.