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Wright State University – settling for less

Earlier this year, Greg Sample, the Chief Operating Officer of Wright State University, made an interesting statement. In it, he attempts to explain why WSU is settling for less.

“We have built Wright State over the years to serve 18,000 students,” chief operating officer Greg Sample said. “We now need to rebuilt it, recast it; to effectively serve and support an enrollment of 10,000.”

The statement itself isn’t surprising. Enrollment at WSU has been declining for years from a peak of around 18,000 students. In 2020, WSU enrolled about 12,200. That’s about a 30% drop over five years. WSU expects its enrollment to dip even farther.

Sample made these statements as a preface to WSU’s plan to consolidate its programs back on campus. The university housed several of its programs in off-campus buildings. Those programs will migrate back to campus, and WSU will sell its unused space. It has already closed a sale on property in downtown Dayton.

One of the reasons Sample cited for the sale on the building was its enormous backlog of deferred maintenance. At the beginning of 2020, WSU had intended to invest about $1.5M to address some of the property’s problems. Once the pandemic hit, WSU’s plans changed drastically, and it committed itself to settling for less.

Real estate sale is only the start

This contraction goes beyond selling the university’s real estate. Its six colleges will be consolidated into four. Thirty employees took early retirement this summer, and WSU laid off an additional 50 staff members. But those cuts still aren’t enough to fix the financial problems that have taken hold at WSU. At the beginning of the fiscal year, WSU Trustees approved a budget that projected a revenue drop of $47M from the previous year and a net operating deficit of nearly $12M.

Yesterday, WSU President Sue Edwards sent a letter to the WSU faculty union outlining the need for instructional layoffs. Edwards declined to say how many layoffs would be necessary or what programs would be affected. According to the letter, a committee of both faculty and administration will determine the extent of the reductions by February. At that time, affected faculty members will be given as much as 18 months’ notice. Faculty layoffs can only mean program closures. Since those decisions have not yet been made, WSU’s faculty, staff and students are left to wonder.

WSU’s administration is planning for a smaller number of students over the long haul. As part of that plan, they’re reducing the campus footprint as well as its overhead. They’ve accepted a strategy of settling for less in an all-out effort to save the institution. Even if that means the institution will be smaller than it has been in the past.

Temporary increase in enrollment does not justify construction

Right now, WCC is awaiting an influx of students – perhaps 3,000 or more – but if all goes according to plan, those students will be here for fewer than five years. Unless the WCC Board of Trustees makes a massive philosophical shift in its approach toward financial oversight, now is not the time to build new buildings using the General Fund or engage in speculative business ventures. WCC will need every penny of that money to keep its doors open.

The planned “Advanced Transportation Center” is really an events space. It has no serious academic value. The few programs that are slated for the building currently operate in existing space and do not require specialized facilities. Nor are they the types of programs that will drive a serious increase in enrollment. The ATC is yet another speculative venture, and it poses an unacceptable risk to WCC’s long-term financial health.

Now is the time to repair and rehabilitate the existing campus infrastructure. This effort should be a high priority because updated facilities attract students. Run-down facilities chase them away. Now is the time to spend money on improving academic programs, advising and student services. It is time to reduce the size of the administration and consider every opportunity to lower its administrative costs. The Trustees should settle for nothing less.

Diverting money from the education of our residents in order to fund speculative real estate development is settling for less.

Much less.

Photo Credit: EmmyMik , via Flickr