Penn State’s slide in this year’s Trojan Sexual Health Report Card doesn’t necessarily reflect the university’s shortcomings — instead, it’s a sign of improvement for other university health services across the country.
Penn State ranked 36 in this year’s report card, dropping 22 spots from last year’s No. 14 ranking.
“Penn State stayed the same, and other places improved,” said Bert Sperling of Sperling’s BestPlaces, a company that analyzes data about people and places and provides up-to-date information for major publications.
The study was conducted by Sperling’s BestPlaces and the makers of Trojan Brand Condoms.
Columbia University — a school with “a real culture for providing information to their students,” Sperling said — ranked No. 1 two years consecutively on the report card.
Columbia makes a variety of resources available to their students such as, “Go ask Alice!,” a health Q-and-A internet service that is available to universities all over the country but originated at Columbia, Sperling said.
There is not a lot of difference in points earned by each school –– the drop in ranking at Penn State was mostly due to the availability of HIV testing and contraceptives for women. Other universities improved their student health services, and Penn State stayed the same, Sperling said.
Sperling’s BestPlaces collected data from student health center representatives of more than 140 campuses across the U.S. The universities were then ranked –– “graded on a curve,” Sperling said –– based on the amount of sexual health information and resources available to students.
The criteria used to rank the schools included the availability of appointments at the health center, HIV and STI testing on campus and the availability and cost of contraceptives and condoms for students.
Penn State offers services like counseling, advice for anonymous students, free condoms and sex education information. Free condoms and information is available from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. through University Health Services on the first floor of the HUB-Robeson Center.
“[Students] don’t have to talk to anyone to get them,” said Kimberly Liao, community health educator at Health Promotion and Wellness within University Health Services.
There is free HIV testing available for Penn State students, but only if accessed through the Health Promotion and Wellness Center. Other types of testing, such as STI testing, would require an appointment and would not be free, Liao said.
Though some services at UHS are not free, some Penn State students find the staff at the clinic helpful.
“Everybody involved seems really willing to help,” Susan Becker (junior-nutritional sciences) said.
In addition, Health Promotion and Wellness at Penn State offers Safer Sex Parties. These are peer-led workshops where students learn ways they can prevent STIs. Any student can request a Safer Sex Party by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
University Health Services also provides medical assistance to students who have experienced sexual assault. Resources are available through the Center for Counseling and Psychological Services, Liao said.
“We talk to the student health centers and ask them to complete a two-page survey regarding the services and resources they provide for students, then we evaluate the website on how easy it is to use,” Sperling said.
The website for Student Health Services provides information on all the services that are available for Penn State students on campus.
“[The website] is really helpful when trying to schedule an appointment, it is really convenient and works around your schedule,” Becker said.
Sperling’s BestPlaces analyzed schools in 50 states and the District of Columbia.
“[It’s] encouraging the response that [the report card] gets, students can go to administration asking them to improve the kind of facilities that are available to them,” Sperling said. “They use [the report card] as a tool as to how their school isn’t ranking as well as it should.”