How Excellent?

Kelly Writers House (top); the Biological Research Building (above); the Penn Bookstore in Sansom Common (above, right), and the fa┴ade of Logan Hall (below right). All photos on this page by Gregory Benson Photography.

you visit the Web site of the University’s journal of record, Almanac, at ( and scroll down the right hand side of the page, you can access the documentary history of the University’s just-concluded strategic plan, The Agenda for Excellence. It begins with the plan itself, dated November 21, 1995 and the product of many months of discussion and debate going back to the earliest days of the administration of Dr. Judith Rodin CW’66. This document outlines the Agenda’s nine strategic goals—from the overarching (“The University will solidify and advance its position as one of the premier research and teaching universities in the nation and in the world”) to the down-to-earth (“The University will identify and secure the funds required to support its strategic goals.”).

    Next comes Six University Academic Priorities, posted September 24, 1996, which sets out a half-dozen broad areas for special attention: Life Science, Technology and Policy; American and Comprehensive Democratic and Legal Institutions; Management, Leadership and Organization; The Humanities—Meaning in the 21st Century; The Urban Agenda; and Information Science, Technology and Society. This was followed by the strategic plans of the University’s 12 schools and centers, posted on January 21, 1997.
Finally, dated May 1, 2001, is Agenda for Excellence, 1995-2000, which reports, in considerable detail—and very small print—on the results of the plan. The prose does not exactly sing, but what the closely packed columns of type add up to is a half-decade of impressive and varied activity that has affected virtually every aspect of the University. For those wishing to avoid eyestrain, here are some selected highlights from the report:
    To put the last goal first, about $952 million was raised for the priorities outlined in the Agenda, out of a total of $1.5 billion raised during the period. This included about $300 million for financial aid and other student needs and $543 million for faculty and academic programs.
    By the available measures, Penn is certainly more in demand today than it was five years ago. The University has moved up 10 notches in the rankings published in U.S. News & World Report, going from 16th in 1994 to sixth in the most recent edition. Also, the number of students applying here has gone up, their quality is higher, and Penn is doing a better job at convincing them to attend once they’ve been accepted. The number of applicants went from 13,700 to 19,000 for the Class of 2005, and the yield—the percentage of accepted students who choose to matriculate at Penn—was 55.5 percent in 2000 vs. 47 percent in 1994. Meanwhile, average SAT scores continue to climb, from 1378 to 1412. As the report puts it, “Penn has clearly accomplished the goal of being considered a school of choice for the ablest undergraduates in the nation and the world.”
    Making the experience of undergraduates at Penn more fulfilling was a major focus of the Agenda, through expanded academic options, increased opportunities for original research, an enhanced living/learning environment, and more funding for student financial aid.
    According to the report, Penn offers more joint and dual-degree programs and opportunities for cross-disciplinary study than any other institution in America—thanks to continuing development of Penn’s traditional strength in this area. Eight new joint and dual-degree programs have been started since 1995, and the “numerous” cross-disciplinary programs include Molecular Life Sciences, designed for undergraduates seeking careers in the biological sciences, and Digital Media Design, a collaboration between the School of Engineering and Applied Science, the Annenberg School for Communication, and the Graduate School of Fine Arts.
    To provide more research opportunities for undergraduates, in Fall 2000, the Center for Undergraduate Research and Fellowships (CURF) was established to serve as a clearinghouse for undergraduates interested in participating in research while at Penn or in applying for post-baccalaureate fellowships. And the University offers more than 75 academic service-learning courses, making it one of the nation’s leaders in these types of courses, which combine coursework with related real-world community service.

Part II:

Assessing the Agenda







Related articles:

Work in Progress

Dorm Transformed

This is Only a Test

Snagging the Big Scholarships

A Passion for Evidence

Humanities Forum to Start a Cultural Dialogue

Revamping Locust Walk

Justice Talking, People Listening


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Copyright 2001 The Pennsylvania Gazette Last modified 8/24/01