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Witt eliminates admin job, shuffles others

In the latest in a series of cost-cutting moves, Wittenberg University President Laurie M. Joyner has eliminated a high-level position and reshuffled her administrative staff.

The decision cut the dual position of vice president for enrollment management and dean of students, held by Sarah Kelly. She was brought to campus in 2008 by then President Mark Erickson.

The move affects the crucial area of student recruitment. Student tuition and fees generate more than 70 percent of the university’s income, and Wittenberg has been dogged by consistently smaller freshman classes in a weaker economy. It also has for years struggled with the rate at which students leave the university after their freshman year, reducing the income the university will realize from that class for the next three years.

Enrollment problems were underscored last fall when the freshman class came in with 39 students fewer than expected, resulting in a budget loss of nearly $800,000.

That news arrived two months after Moody’s rating service bumped Wittenberg’s bond rating down a notch to Ba2. Moody’s said the reduction “reflects continued fundamentally unbalanced operating performance and poor cash flow generation … reflecting enrollment challenges and continuing difficulty in growing net tuition revenues.”

Moody’s had reduced the rating to Ba1 in June 2011, a month after the university board members decided not to continue Erickson’s tenure.

In her Jan. 2 announcement, Joyner also said Karen Hunt will serve as executive director of admissions and Randy Green as executive director of financial aid. Hunt will report to Mark Sullivan, chief marketing and communications officer.

Green will work with Jeff Ankrom, professor of economics and associate provost, “on financial aid strategy and modeling,” the announcement said. One way the university could improve its bottom line would be to reduce the average aid package it provides to students. That issue is complicated by the fact that the amount of aid it offers can attract students away from its competitors.

The announcement also said Casey Stevens, associate dean of students, will serve as interim dean and “make decisions regarding the … responsibilities of other student development staff.”

Student development oversees areas including the university’s residence halls and student activities.

Joyner said the adjustments provide “an opportunity to think about greater alignment between academic and student affairs to create a more seamless, active and engaged educational experience for students with great potential for improved student retention.”

They also represent the elimination of an administrative position at a time when everyone around the university has been asked to cut back.

The university in January hired a new company to provide housekeeping services, a move that led to protests from students and faculty members and cut the wages for those positions but also is expected to save the university more than $300,000.

Through an Educational Policies Committee, Wittenberg faculty is considering cutting or reducing academic majors and programs that are less popular. Joyner plans to present recommendations on that issue to the university’s board in May.

All of these moves are part of an attempt to address the financial problems spelled out in the Moody’s reports and a $7 million budget gap Joyner says Wittenberg must address within the next five years.

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