UA-76843172-1

A Word with Wubah: What the president of Millersville wants us to know about tuition costs and leadership

During our meeting on Oct. 7, Dr. Wubah and I talked about tuition in the PASSHE system and how leadership plays a role in our futures.

Jared Hameloth
Editor in Chief

Because of my position at The Snapper, I get the privilege of meeting with Dr. Wubah once a month during the academic year to talk about what our paper is covering and to get an inside view of what our university president is thinking about. I don’t take our meetings lightly; I try to come prepared with timely questions about programs being initiated, events going on, and what he is feeling and thinking about certain aspects of campus life.

I’ve had a few meetings with Dr. Wubah so far (including the ones from last semester), and they are always insightful and help me think about what goes on at Millersville. However,  because of my digital journalism major, I felt as if I needed to produce something tangible from these conversations to share with The Snapper readers and the Millersville community. So this is the pilot episode of “A Word with Wubah.” It will be a monthly series that hopefully allows us as a community to gain further personal insight into the Office of the President.

I’m always nervous before our conversations. It’s nerve racking to try and formulate questions that sound educated but that aren’t too close-ended that the answer would amount to something that I could already read on the Millersville blogs. I try to make them personal; what I’m really trying to ask is, “what does Wubah think about this?”

The following will be the points from our conversation on Oct. 7 that stood out to me the most and that I thought the Millersville community would be the most interested in hearing about.

The question: “What are the dynamics of paying for college now that PASSHE allows universities to set their own tuition rates?”

To prepare for our conversation, I watched the LNP livecast that was held on Sept. 25 where the editorial board sat down with Dr. Wubah and asked him questions about the university. They had brought up the point that PASSHE was changing its tuition-setting rule to allow each university to set its own rate. Because of the new policy, Wubah told me that “we (Millersville) can look at the market and determine the best price to get students to come to Millersville.”

He said that although lowering tuition rates can help bring in students that would have gone to our “sister institutions” instead, it is more about advertising the right programs to compete with other universities in the area. If you look at other state schools—Kutztown to our north, Shippensburg to our west, and West Chester to our east—even if we had lower tuition, that might not be enough to persuade students to come to Millersville. “But if we advertise programs that we do better than the others—like our music program—that will help get students, regardless of price.”

When talking about this, I immediately thought that a lot of other students (myself included) would much rather have lower tuition in general, regardless of trying to compete with other state schools. If the university now has the power to set our own tuition, let’s just set it super low to ease the burden on students. Sounds like a great plan; let’s just do that.

But I asked Wubah what would happen if a university would try to undercut others by a large margin—either to get more enrollment or just to help students—and how that would influence the other schools. Fortunately for the integrity and stability of college tuition, Wubah told me that the budget for each university still has to be approved by the board of governors. Although it would be nice for a university to dramatically lower tuition, it could cause a lot of havoc within the state system for prices to fluctuate so much.

The finances

Dr. Wubah mentioned another fact that was surprising to me, but probably shouldn’t have been: 70 percent of Millersville’s revenue comes from tuition and fees, and just 25 percent comes from PA’s general appropriations. That means Millersville has to support itself mostly through what it can take in directly. In addition, out of the $125.3 million total revenue Millersville had in 2019, $96.7 million was spent on salaries, wages, and benefits for those employed by the university. That means that 77 percent of all revenue went to paying our professors, faculty, and staff.

Running a university is expensive! My takeaway from that part of the conversation changed significantly after realizing how many expenses tuition actually has to cover under the current way that PA allocates funds to state schools. Millersville really does have to support itself through its own revenue streams because it can’t count on the state to even cover a quarter of the cost.

The endowments

Since the university remains stuck in the position of not being able to lower tuition very much even with the new PASSHE rule, I asked Dr. Wubah what solutions he sees to help students overcome these costs. Endowments came up because of this, which provided an interesting angle to the idea of how to finance our university.

Wubah said that although some universities have large endowments that help offset operating costs, many—such as state schools like Millersville—only have endowments large enough to reinforce programs. Wubah said that the “future of higher education is for universities to develop their own philanthropy initiatives.” This means that universities must create a system where they can raise a lot of their own money for endowments to cover the costs of operating the university, as opposed to raising tuition even further.

He gave the example of Washington and Lee University, where he was the provost and senior adviser to the president before coming to Millersville. W&L operates with a $1.6 billion endowment. Endowments are large investments that come from typically large donations, which collect interest over time and then that money is used to fund programs. In W&L’s case, it also helps “keep tuition increases to a minimum,” according to its website.

In contrast, Millersville operates with a $50 million endowment between its foundation and permanent trust. Being aware of this fact, it is clear to see the difference each university has to account for to plan and execute their budgets. Not every university has the funds to offset lowering tuition and fees; for many schools that don’t receive a very large allocation from the state, the only way to pay faculty and staff a decent wage is through tuition.

What I took from what Wubah said about developing our own “philanthropy initiative” is that students and faculty need to be involved. From writing grant proposals, such as Dr. Redcay’s $1.35 million grant that helps fund scholarships relating to opioid addiction treatment, to joining boards such as the Council of Trustees to make sure that students are represented in the planning and budgeting process at Millersville, we need to make sure we are involved.

The final takeaway

Referencing the current and future problems that Millersville will need to solve, Wubah told me that a large part of the solution can be reduced down into one main takeaway. He encouraged me to share this takeaway from our conversation with the Millersville community but particularly with students: 

Wubah wants us to be leaders.

“I want students to be more engaged in leadership positions. Did you know that out of all our students—over 7,000 students—only one applied to be on the Council of Trustees? One.” Wubah expressed that he wished students would have to contend for that kind of position due to the responsibility of holding such a title as an undergraduate and the experience that can be gained from it. He wants more students to take up more leadership positions for the experience, resume building, and simply for the opportunity it presents for students to change their community in a positive way.

By being leaders, we have a greater say in our futures by letting our voices be heard and by helping make important decisions about our university. Let’s take up this call to lead, and let’s work at creating the future of our university together by facing and solving the problems we encounter.