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At Penn State, New Students Weigh Stigma Of Scandal

Penn State freshman Samuel Russ, of Germantown, Md., and his mother, Rina Russ, moving his things into the dorm.
Jeff Brady
Penn State freshman Samuel Russ, of Germantown, Md., and his mother, Rina Russ, moving his things into the dorm.

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 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Jeff Brady is a National Desk Correspondent based in Philadelphia, where he covers energy issues and climate change. Brady helped establish NPR's environment and energy collaborative which brings together NPR and Member station reporters from across the country to cover the big stories involving the natural world.