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Wittenberg expects larger freshman class

News comes after year when $4.5 million in cuts were made from budget

A projected enrollment increase in the incoming freshman class at Wittenberg University has officials there optimistic following a year in which it made $4.5 million in budget cuts.

After a year of recruiting in Michigan, Indiana and competitive and college-clogged Ohio, the university is getting ready to welcome Aug. 22 an incoming freshman class of 570, an increase of more than 50 from 2012.

“Until we see the whites of their eyes, you just don’t know,” said second-year president Laurie Joyner.

But Matthew Smith, professor of communication and chairman of the faculty personnel board, said that in the wake of cuts of 15 occupied and 14 unoccupied faculty positions, the news is welcome on campus.

“I think there’s a bit of an exhale,” he said.

Following years in which it didn’t happen, “we are predicting we are going to hit our budget numbers,” Joyner said.

Joyner said one of the points of pride Wittenberg has going into the fall is that it is increasing its enrollment at a time when a study shows 83 percent of colleges its size are sliding in the other direction.

“I’m very excited about this, and, yes, we need to celebrate it,” she said, but “this is still not going to solve the issue that we’re facing five years out.”

Even after last year’s $4.5 million in cuts, Joyner says the university has a $2.5 million gap to address through additional cuts or increases in revenue.

“I was so pleased to see the whole campus come together” in recruiting students, said Karen Hunt, executive director of admissions.

With the faculty even more actively involved and a more hands-on approach in the late stages of recruiting, “it was clearly a team effort.”

Joyner is counting on that kind of collaboration this year from committees charged with:

• identifying programs of study that can be strengthened and marketed to draw more students;

• melding budgeting and programming in ways that keep everyone aware of the connection between Wittenberg’s mission and its bottom line; and

• promoting innovation in all areas in an effort to improve operating efficiency by cutting costs and raising revenues.

Joyner said she’s encouraged by the financial success of the first semester or Maymester program, the addition of a criminology major, and steps taken toward creating a nursing degree completion program.

But she said more is required.

“We need to diversify our programs. We can’t think we’re going to continue to compete for the traditional undergraduate population” with “the same old academic programs.”

Michael Anes, an associate professor of psychology who chairs the Faculty Executive Board, said Joyner has a campus community willing to work with her.

Even after a year of painful cuts, “I don’t think there’s a sizable populace that thinks she’s misstepped.” Anes said.

Saying Joyner was “exceptionally prepared” for the job, he said a year after her arrival, “I think everybody’s pretty much aware of the issues facing us. Everybody’s on board, I would say.”

Smith agreed.

“A lesser leader” might have waited for a year to act, he said, but “the consequences” of waiting would have been “far more grave.”

“In the long term, (last year’s cuts) mean our recovery, our path to a point of equilibrium, is going to come that much sooner.”

Smith is looking for the same kind of leadership from Joyner at the conclusion of this year’s planning.

“Everyone needs to be heard, but someone needs to act,” Smith said. “Ultimately, (administrators) need to make a decision …. Ultimately, we need to act.”

Until then, there likely will be lively discussion over striking what Smith calls the “tender balance” between the more career-oriented education market forces seem to be calling for and the university’s own sense of “at the core, what it means to be a well educated individual.”

Smith said how serious the faculty and university take that issue is shown by what was and was not cut last year.

“We didn’t talk about getting rid of philosophy (or) abandoning our commitment to languages,” he said.

Smith added that two of Wittenberg’s strongest departments, education and business, both are pre-professional tracks, not traditional liberal arts fields.

Anes said he also expects the university to continue its record of preparing students for graduate schools: “We do an excellent job in Ph.D. placement.”

“I think people need to know Wittenberg is not alone,” Anes said of a higher education field that’s been changing fast for both public and private schools.

Joyner said one concern going forward this year is her changing leadership team.

Hunt took over in admissions after Joyner eliminated the position of vice president of enrollment in January, and Sophia Vandiford has stepped into the position of director of development after the departure of Jim Geiger as vice president for advancement.

More change is coming this fall with the retirement of long time Vice President for Business and Finance Darrell Kitchen, whose job title will be changed to vice president of finance and administration in time for a national search for his replacement.

Regardless of those challenges, Joyner said her hope is that by next school year “we’ll be implementing the plan” drawn up this year with an eye toward “growing our revenues and seeing a way out (of the moderate-term financial problems) by year five or six.”

The wide range of revenue-raising possibilities Joyner is open to is apparent when she mentions so-called “uncorrelated programs.”

“My former institution is building a hotel,” she said, though as an example not as a proposal.

But she’s also underscoring change as a recurring theme in Wittenberg’s history.

“A tradition of innovation has always been part of how the place has survived and thrived,” Joyner said. 

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