President: Wittenberg needs to grow enrollment, retain more students

No more cuts are looming at Wittenberg University as the school’s new president focuses on increasing enrollment and improving its retention of students.

Mike Frandsen, the 15th president of the liberal arts college that’s a major Springfield employer with an estimated $70 million impact on the region’s economy, spoke to the Springfield Rotary Club on Monday and said if the school improves enrollment, no more cuts should be needed.

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“Nothing soon,” Frandsen said. “We need to see what happens with enrollment,”

The university’s board of trustees approved cuts of $6.5 million in 2015 through reductions and restructuring, such as changes to retiree benefits.

The current goal is to get enrollment up to 2,000 traditional students, and Frandsen said his team is hard at work to make that a reality. However it’s going to take time to achieve.

“There are a lot of things working against,” Frandsen said. “We are going to compete on the basis of our story and the way we transform students lives.”

Right now Wittenberg’s student retention rate between the first and second year is 71 percent. That needs to get better, he said.

MORE: New Wittenberg president wants stronger ties with Springfield

“It is less than I would hope,” he said. “The key metric for us is the second-year retention. If students are back for their third semester, there is a very high probability that they are going to graduate.”

The university also is in the process of building a $40 million athletic complex. It’s taking longer and costing more than originally expected, he said.

“We are committed to doing it and absolutely committed to the benefit that it is going to bring to us,” Frandsen said.

The renovated old field house will reopen at the start of the next academic year and the new facility will be ready in the spring of 2019.

McKenzie Cook, a freshman at Wittenberg who graduated from Catholic Central in Springfield, said on Monday morning the president’s been welcoming during her first year at the school.

“I went to his house in the first week with a group of students and he was really nice,” Cook said. “He took the time to talk to us and his wife even talked to us.”

EXTRA: Wittenberg breaks ground on $40M complex to lure students

The group sat down to talk about the future of the university and how they hope their time at the school goes, she said.

“He was asking us how we were liking Wittenberg and how we were hoping our experience would go and how excited we were being here,” Cook said.

She has had a positive experience so far at Wittenberg, Cook said, because it is a small school focused on community.

Wittenberg is committed to reaching out to the Springfield community as well, Frandsen said.

“Personally, I want to be apart of the community in which I live and work,” he said. “Wittenberg needs a strong Springfield and Springfield needs a strong Wittenberg.”

Anyone in the community is invited to participate in most on-campus activities, Frandsen said, including attending sporting events and when the school has speakers on campus as part of the Wittenberg Series.

By the numbers

$70 million: Estimated economic impact of Wittenberg University in Springfield

429: Employees at Wittenberg University

1,800: Approximate current student enrollment

2,000: Student enrollment goal

71 percent: First to second-year retention rates for Wittenberg University

Continuing Coverage

The Springfield News-Sun has closely tracked budget cuts, leadership changes and their affect on the Springfield community for several years, including stories digging into its financial troubles and staff turnovers.

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