Wright State University’s board of trustees will consider building a standalone recreation center following a campus-wide vote that showed students narrowly agree the school should charge them a new fee to help construct such a facility.
A survey given to students earlier this year asked if they would vote for or against a series of proposals with fees ranging from $180 to $260 per semester to help fund the construction.
Just under 19 percent of students at WSU cast a ballot in the referendum, with 1,362 voting in favor of paying for a new rec center and 1,287 voting against it. The measure passed by a margin of 75 votes on a campus that has around 14,000 undergraduate students.
“Obviously the margin was pretty slim,” said Daniel Palmer, president of Wright State’s undergraduate student government and a graduating senior. “I think it shows there’s a lot of deep wounds at this institution and a lot of division.”
Wright State has been through a tumultuous few years that have included a 20-day faculty strike, a $1-million settlement for a federal investigation into visa misuse and budget cuts that resulted in the university reducing spending by around $53 million.
Palmer said he hoped the possibility of a new recreation center would help bring the campus together though he said he suspects a debate over the potential facility will continue.
“It’s not a mandate. It’s basically saying the students have approved…It’s totally up to the board of trustees,” Palmer said.
The proposal for a new recreation center previously came up in the 1990s and in 2014 before most recently emerging as an idea from strategic planning, said Eric Corbitt, director of the WSU student union. Wright State currently has less space and staff dedicated to recreation than any other four-year public universities in Ohio, Palmer said.
But, state leaders have been resistant in allowing colleges to charge students more fees. If passed by the legislature, Gov. Mike DeWine’s current budget proposal would not allow schools to add fees in the next two years, Randy Gardner, chancellor of the Ohio Department of Higher Education recently told the Dayton Daily News.
The recreation center proposal and referendum is something the board of trustees has applauded and chairman Doug Fecher said trustees will consider the idea. Fecher commended the students on their work and said it’s “too early to tell” if the school will move forward with the idea or what the facility’s timeline would look like.
Faced with declining enrollment, attracting more students has been a recent priority for WSU. Some believe a recreation center could be one of the many answers to reverse Wright State’s enrollment trends.
Wright State’s enrollment was expected to dip below 17,000 for the first time last fall since 2007 to around 16,224, nearly 3,550 below the school’s peak in 2010 when a transition from quarters to semesters started taking place, according to a fiscal year 2019 budget.
Though similar sized schools are also facing enrollment issues, Wright State’s full-time enrollment from fiscal year 2012 to fiscal year 2017 dropped 13 percent.
A potential recreation center could help turn around the years of enrollment declines, Palmer said. It’s something Fecher agreed with, saying a new rec center could “make Wright State more attractive” to prospective students.
“I know it’s something that the students were really interested in having to round out the campus environment,” Fecher said. “I think we have to consider it at this point.”