By Alyssa Foley
Richard Ludwick will officially replace Robert Ivany as president of the University of St. Thomas on July 7, 2017. The University Board of Directors appointed Ludwick the university’s ninth president earlier this month.
Ivany announced in fall 2015 that he would be ending his 5-year contract early, just months before faculty gave Ivany a vote of no-confidence for a lack of transparency in university finances.
Ludwick spoke with USTunderground.com over the phone last week to discuss his hopes and plans as university president. Luckwick said that his first “official act” as University of St. Thomas president would be to attend mass.
“Affordability is a significantly important question for not just the University of St. Thomas, but for higher education generally,” said Ludwick.
He noted that more than the university’s sticker price must be considered in a discussion of affordability, what students actually pay and how much institutional aid the university can afford must also be considered. UST currently has a 53 percent average undergraduate discount rate. Ludwick pointed out that UST’s average financial aid package does put the university within reach for most students, “especially when you consider the cost of not attending the University of St. Thomas.”
“You also have to look at the value of the experience vis-à-vis what the experience is elsewhere,” noted Ludwick.” He said that outcomes such as graduation rates and personal development can make a UST education a more valuable investment than just in a dollar sense.
To give some numerical perspective on outcomes, according to the Department of Education’s College Scorecard, 51 percent of first-time college students taking a full course load will earn a Bachelor’s degree within six years, compared to 48 percent of University of Houston students. The median annual salaries for a UST graduate is $47,800, but the median UH graduate earns slightly more at $48,900 a year. Both Houston universities have outcomes slightly better than the national average.
Ludwick has experience in university enrollment from working as Provost of Saint Gregory’s University in Oklahoma and Vice President of Enrollment and Student Affairs at Albany Law School in New York.
Currently, Ludwick is studying St. Thomas’ key strengths and how they may apply to the marketplace.
There are over 6.5 million people in the greater Houston area, and 1.2 million Catholics within the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston. With one Catholic institution in the city, Ludwick said, “it seems logical that there is an opportunity to serve not only the Catholic market, but a wider market who would be looking for the kind of qualities that a St. Thomas education provides…Our opportunity is to match those people who value that kind of an education and make it both affordable and attainable for them.”
Ludwick says that he wants to keep UST’s finances in perspective. “A not-for-profit organization is not intended to make a profit,” said Ludwick, but “we always think it’s important to have a positive cash flow if we can.”
The Budget Advisory Committee thinks that the 2016-17 budget will have a deficit of around $1,000,000 due to shortfalls in fundraising and tuition revenue.
“We obviously don’t want to sustain deficits,” Ludwick said that a one-million dollar deficit on a multi-million dollar budget and endowment, “is not an existential issue, [but] it is a problem that you want to fix.” Ludwick says that he will work diligently to have budgets in the black.
Ludwick says that he would start a community dialogue to determine priorities, “and how the budget can be used as a tool to make sure that those priorities are realized.”
Although Ludwick said that he does not the specific of the faculty pay situation yet, “under Catholic social teaching…we would want to make sure that compensation is fair and always appropriate.”
Ludwick believes part of his role as university president will be to “help the community sort of discern where the next best opportunities lie, both within the mission and also in meeting the market needs.”
Ludwick believes that part of what makes UST special is its “emphasis on the kinds of skill sets that complement the nursing skill sets or the business skill sets…found through studying and fluency in the liberal arts, especially in theology and philosophy.”
UST graduates have understanding of Western Culture beneath their professional skill sets, which Ludwick believes that this gives them a leg up on the competition and the “currency to engage in meaningful work.”
The new university president is walking into a situation where students, faculty and alumni have voiced their frustrations with the transparency and receptiveness of the university’s administration.
To address transparency issues, Ludwick says that, “I favor are structures that allow for free flow of information, so that people don’t feel disenfranchised.”
A New Houston Home
“Both my wife and I were really impressed by the folks that we met on campus,” said Ludwick, “we were particularly impressed with the students that we met, that was a big selling point for us, that we thought the students were just articulate and engaged, and they were enthusiastic, and they were just terrific.” He also mentioned that, “The dedication of the faculty and the staff was very impressive.”
Ludwick admits he’s not that familiar with Houston, but he and his wife have been new comers in many places throughout the country. “We’re looking for a long-term home, and we hope and thing that Houston will be it.”
“There is a whole lot of positive things that exist at the University of St. Thomas and we’re excited to come and join that community,” said Ludwick.