A sudden and unexpected change occurred for students this semester with the implementation of Millersville University’s new per-credit-hour cost of tuition.
On July 8 this year, the Board of Governors (BOG) of the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education (PASSHE) approved a new $264 per credit plan for undergraduate Pennsylvania resident students, replacing the previous flat rate for full-time students enrolled in 12-18 credits.
All students received an email and mailed letter in mid-July of this change, some discovering that they had less than two weeks to come up with a smaller or larger sum then they had originally anticipated paying for tuition.
“With limited state funding for the school year, this new flexible pricing plan was proposed to not only offset the deficit, but be more equitable to all students by charging them for the number of credits they consumed.” said Nancy Pruskowski, MU’s Associate Vice President for Finance and Administration.
MU proposed this tuition change in response to the BOG’s call for pilot programs, where it was later voted on and approved.
With MU’s total projected 2014-15 deficit of $8,075,708 in May, this decision was made in July supported by findings of The McGuire Study commissioned by PASSHE in January 2013, which found that 8 out of 10 enrolled students would attend the same college at a $3000 increase in cost, and in-state parents of students showed a consistent tolerance for a $1000 net increase among all income levels.
Millersville business administration major Markesha Burnett was able to represent the student body while serving as a student trustee on the BOG during this change in policy. As student trustee, she attended many meetings with council trustee members and the cabinet. Burnett’s initial reaction to this proposition was that students may not understand the reason for its occurrence within such a short time frame. Despite this, she feels this change will ultimately be good for the university.
“I thought this idea was innovative and gives us a great respect. A lot of people do not know how many components it takes to run this university. This change was the best way to keep Millersville’s doors open,” Burnett said.
In 2011, Governor Tom Corbett slashed $1 billion from Pennsylvania’s public schools, which has snowballed into the funding crisis state universities such as Millersville are experiencing today. In 1983, the state of Pennsylvania was giving its universities 68 percent of their funding. Now Millersville is beginning to look like a private institution like its neighboring competitor, Franklin & Marshall College, which receives about 90% of its funds from students. In fact, Millersville will be the first state university to have introduced this tuition change.
“Right now Millersville is currently enrolled in a three-year pilot program. Out of all of the 14 State PASSHE schools, we are the only one who has switched to this pricing-per-credit plan. All of the other schools are watching to see what happens,” said Pruskowski.
Previously, Pruskowski served for seven years as the Executive Director of Budget and Internal Audit at Bucks County Community College, where she has seen this type of pricing plan work.
“I think this is going to be a good program, especially for those who are part-time. It is more equitable and fair for students and those who are taking less classes and working their way through college are now paying less. Over time, I think that every PASSHE school is going to make this change,” Pruskowski said.
With this new plan, student tuition will be rolled back from the 2013/14 PASSHE rate over the years of the program, reduction being recouped over the four years, according to a budget presentation made at the 2014 Fall Open Budget Forum by Mr. Roger V. Bruszewski, Vice President for Finance and Administration.
“Right now students taking 13 credits break even, those taking less than 13 saved money, and anyone taking more is paying more.” said Bruszewski. “We looked at who needs the money and how many [students] there are. Twenty-five percent of students who attend Millersville do not even fill out a financial aid form, so we are looking at 5,000 students, and out of these how many students need additional money.”
This year financial aid scholarships were increased to $1.1 million in order to assist students in need as a result of this change in policy. The majority of students were not receiving a big hit; only 1,927 were in need of financial assistance for those last two credits.
However, many students who did need help were not able to receive any. Senior English major Jessica Stephenson has always had to be careful with her money. As a freshman she began taking out loans, working at Giant because she had to, and her mother even started working a second job. Every school year, she relied on receiving about $300 back to pay for her books and other college expenses.
“I really relied on the money that I was getting back,” said Stephenson. “I actually used it for my education. This semester they kind of hit me in the face when I received a letter and found out I owed $400 this year. My first thought was great….how am I going to pay this?”
After taking the next step and speaking with MU’s Financial Aid Office, Stephenson was told that nothing more could be done for her financial situation. This past summer a hail storm happened to damage the new 2006 Chevy Cobalt she had purchased, so instead of using the insurance money to get it fixed, she had to use a majority of it to pay for college.
“I am so stressed out right now—I work until 11 p.m. and get up at 6 a.m. most days. It is hard studying and getting all of my homework done,” Stephenson said.
MU junior history major Krista Mauger, who attended the forum where Bruszewski presented was upset over this change which she feels was done behind the backs of students.
“According to the Office of Admissions, the average MU fulltime Pennsylvania student is taking 14.53 credits. This is 95% of the population of Millersville students, so the majority of students are not making out better. Now I have to come up with $1400 more dollars, “said Mauger.
Currently, it is too soon to determine the impact of the program on the university. Based off of undergraduate enrollment as of Sept. 2, there has been a -3.6 percent decrease in students taking more than 12 credits and a 1.7 percent increase in students taking 12 credits or less. However, the total average number of credit hours for students taking 12+ credits did not experience a significant change in percentage.
“The average credit hours taken by students taking 12+ credits was 14.60 in fall of 2013 and 14.52 in fall of 2014—virtually identical. We would have thought the average number of credits would have fallen by a noticeable amount in 2014 with the increase in price at 12+ credits,” said Pruskowski.
“This is the opposite of what we thought would happen,” said Bruszewski of this change.
Next year a deficit of $5,583,985 still remains and there are several tactics that are part of President John Anderson’s strategic plan that he is hoping will increase revenue. There will be an estimated increase in revenue of $8.9 million to $9.1 million from the per-credit tuition model program, $9.6 million to $10.2 million with online initiatives, and by increasing the number of international students ($3.4 million) and out of state students ($4.8 million) an increase in revenue is also to be expected.
Time can only tell what this change in policy will truly mean for the Millersville University community, but Bruszewski expects other schools to be following this experimentation.
“The system has asked us to be a pilot for other programs. Out of every PASSHE school, all 13 of them have asked how they can do this. Kutztown is coming in a couple weeks. In three years I expect every school to will probably be implementing this model,” Bruszewski said.
While the university admits the implementation of this tuition policy was less than perfect due to the short notice, stressful repackaging of aid and other programs who were left with not enough funds, the decision has been made and its repercussions will speak for themselves.