Posted: 10:35 p.m. Monday, Sept. 24, 2012

Wittenberg leader seeks sustainable financial future

University is a key employer and community resource, local officials say.


Wittenberg leader seeks sustainable financial future photo
Erica Precht, a freshman at Wittenberg University from Wauseon, Ohio, looks at a chicken embryo through a microscope Monday during a biology lab in the university’s Barbara Deer Kuss Science Center. Staff photo by Bill Lackey
Wittenberg leader seeks sustainable financial future photo
Amber Tillman, a freshman at Wittenberg University from Cincinnati, and Ryan Peterkoski, a sophomore from Berea, Ohio, work in a biology lab Monday in the university’s Barbara Deer Kuss Science Center. The university will examine all its programs in order to ensure Wittenberg remains financially stable. Staff photo by Bill Lackey

By Megan Gildow Anthony

Staff Writer

Wittenberg University will look to cut costs, attract more students and generate additional revenue after declining enrollment and budget gaps in recent years.

“Right now, creating a sustainable financial model is my No. 1 priority,” said President Laurie Joyner, who is new to campus this year.

The university is the 18th largest employer in Clark County, according to a 2012 Greater Springfield Chamber of Commerce study. It employs about 420 people full time.

“Wittenberg is one of our top 25 employers for Springfield and Clark County,” said Jim Bodenmiller, Springfield’s city manager. “Jobs are absolutely critical to our community … Their financial health is very, very important.”

In addition to its role as employer, Wittenberg contributes to the educational base of the community, its students contribute volunteer hours and students and faculty spend money here, said Mike McDorman, president and CEO of the Greater Springfield Chamber of Commerce.

“They’ve played a very important role in our community’s success, both in our past and in our present and, hopefully, in our future,” he said.

The size of Wittenberg’s endowment, the number of students attending the school and a status quo mode of spending and budgeting have contributed to the need to revamp some of the school’s operations, Joyner said.

Wittenberg’s endowment is about $88 million today but changes daily because of investments. Some similar institutions, like Dennison University, have $500 million endowments that enable those schools to offer more competitive financial packages to top students.

“It’s hard to compete with free,” Joyner said.

The endowment’s rates of returns are comparable or better than peers, according to the National Association of College and University Business Officers.

The school is also using more of its endowment each year than it should, drawing down about 6 percent instead of 5.5 percent, according to Joyner.

Wittenberg has been budgeting the past several years for an incoming class of about 600 students. This year’s class is about 521 and about 1,731 undergraduate students attend Wittenberg. That’s down from a peak enrollment of 1,942 traditional students in 2007.

“We’ve been budgeting at a number that I think is inconsistent to our empirical reality,” said Joyner.

So Joyner started meeting with faculty and staff to identify priorities and areas for potential cuts and solutions. Each of the college’s vice presidents, academic and non-academic, is working to identify areas under their departments where savings could be realized.

In addition to cost cutting, Wittenberg must identify areas that could be developed to increase revenue.

“I honestly don’t think we can cut our way out of the challenges that face liberal arts education,” said Joyner. “We’re going to have to grow our way out of it.”

Each year, the college has to balance the profile of its class against the number of students applying to try to admit the projected number of students but also maintain the desired rigor for admissions. In order to generate revenue, the college must increase the number of students enrolled.

“I certainly think there’s ways to grow our enrollment but not (with) the students that we’ve traditionally had,” Joyner said.

High school students in post-secondary courses, international students and evening students are all possibilities to increase enrollment. The college is also looking at an intensive summer term in May and some online courses that would leverage faculty resources to increase its ability to bring in revenue.

Developing “centers of excellence,” or programs that develop a reputation that can attract students nationwide, could also bring in more students and increase revenue. Natural sciences, East Asian studies, the relationship with Wittenberg, Germany, and the school’s mission and dedication to community service are potential areas for development, Joyner said.

The chair of Wittenberg’s faculty executive board, Robin Inboden, declined to comment.

Wittenberg isn’t alone in its predicament; liberal arts colleges across the country are in similar circumstances.

“We’re a little bit later coming to the game,” Joyner said.

In 2009, Urbana University cut jobs, salaries and closed buildings. In 2007, Antioch College in Yellow Springs closed after several years of financial trouble and re-opened in 2011..

Joyner estimates that some changes to non-academic operations could come quickly and that the next 12 to 18 months will be intensive in the process. Changes to academic programs take longer because the university has to work with students already enrolled to make sure they can complete their degrees. Wittenberg will look at the academic programs available and evaluate the number of students enrolled and graduating for each program, Joyner said.

Wittenberg University is important to the area educationally and economically. The Springfield News-Sun will follow Wittenberg through its process of creating a new financial model over the next year.


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