Meadville Tribune

January 20, 2014

Like Subway, our state schools need promotions to improve their numbers

By state Rep. Greg Lucas
Meadville Tribune

— What do Subway restaurants, university students and legislation I recently introduced have to do with growing northwestern Pennsylvania’s economy? Allow me to explain.

Subway restaurants tapped into customers’ desire for quality, convenience and affordability when it unveiled its “$5 footlong” sandwich campaign. This month, the sandwich maker is offering any regular footlong submarine sandwich for $5 in a promotion it is calling “JanuANY.”

The logic here is simple: Offer a quality product at a low price to generate more customers. Once they’re inside the restaurant, there’s a chance they’ll buy products where the owner earns a larger profit, such as beverages or potato chips.

Now let’s change our focus to the state-owned universities that make up the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education (PASSHE), including Edinboro University. Enrollment at some of these schools, including Edinboro University, has been down in recent years. Empty desks in classrooms mean fewer dollars to pay professors’ salaries, expand the university and increase economic activity in the region.

PASSHE schools offer a quality education at an affordable price. The challenge — like with Subway restaurants — is how to get more people in the door.

Before a student can enroll at a PASSHE university, he or she first must file an application. Schools charge students varying levels of fees to submit the applications. The undergraduate application fee at Edinboro University is currently $30.

The cost of applying to more than one school can quickly begin to add up. This may deter some students from applying to state-owned universities.

Subway offers $5 sandwiches to attract people. I recently introduced a bill in the state House that would allow Pennsylvania high school seniors to pay a reduced application fee of $5 on the third Thursday of every October to apply to PASSHE schools. This could break down the barrier between Pennsylvania high school students and their dream of a higher education while simultaneously filling PASSHE classrooms.

The second bill I introduced would empower each PASSHE university to set its own tuition rates for non-Pennsylvania residents, which would allow them to compete with schools from other states for students. The PASSHE Board of Governors currently sets tuition levels for all students at state-owned universities. My bill would allow each school’s council of trustees to set tuition rates for out-of-state students, but it would require those rates to be at least as high as the tuition rate charged to in-state students.

State-owned university graduates often go on to become the workers and business owners who drive our economy. PASSHE schools train the teachers, scientists, engineers and other professionals necessary for 21st century economic growth.

By making it easier for in-state students to apply to state-owned universities and allowing those schools to adjust tuition rates to compete for out-of-state students, we can boost enrollment, generate economic growth now and invest in the leaders of tomorrow.

Greg Lucas, a Republican, represents the Fifth District in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives, which includes western Crawford County.