Witt meets enrollment goals, still faces $3.5M shortfall

Wittenberg University is projected to reach its enrollment goal for the second consecutive year, but it still faces a long-term $3.5 million deficit.

The university is expected to welcome 572 new students in the fall, up from 521 in 2012.

The increase in enrollment shows the university has made significant progress in the past two years as officials work to close a five-year, $7 million budget shortfall, President Laurie Joyner said.

“We are thrilled by our success in terms of enrollment, as it is an incredible accomplishment, considering that prior to 2013, this had not been the case for several years,” Joyner said.

The university estimates its economic impact in Springfield at $70.7 million annually and it has 372 full-time employees and 98 part-time workers.

Last year, Wittenberg University’s board of directors approved a plan to cut a total of $4.5 million by 2017.

But the reductions so far have been much steeper.

The university made $5.2 million in cuts from its budget through 2017 by reducing expenses and faculty and staff members, said Rob Munson, vice president for finance and administration.

A total of 29 faculty positions were eliminated — most of the positions were vacant and two tenured professors are retiring.

The university also eliminated 13 non-faculty positions, Munson said. About half of those positions were through retirements and the other half were layoffs or a reduction in force.

In addition, the university has generated $1.2 million in new revenue through community education programs and bachelor’s degree completion programs in nursing and criminology.

The university plans to partner with Clark State in a nursing program, will offer the first President’s Leadership Academy July 20-25 for high school juniors and seniors, and has secured financial support, including a pledge for a new indoor multipurpose athletic facility.

Joyner said recently that under Wittenberg’s five-year budget model, the university has either cut or are projecting additional revenue totalling $6.4 million.

“We’re projecting the difference still to be covered to be $3.5 million, which is largely due to increased fixed costs and the need to incorporate a contingency line in the budget for emergencies,” Joyner said.

The school’s leaders hope the cuts, new programs and the university’s five-year budget plan, which includes plans to cover building depreciation and renovations, will result in an improved Moody’s Investors Service review, Munson said. The latest review is expected to be released later this week.

Last year, Moody’s downgraded the university’s bond rating from Ba2 to B1 with a negative outlook.

The credit rating agency in its 2013 review cited stagnant enrollment growth and aggressive tuition discounting.

“The freshman discount rate was 54.2 percent for fall 2012 and is not expected to improve for the incoming fall 2013 class, continuing to hamper net tuition revenue growth and is a particular credit challenge given a high — 80 percent — reliance on student charges,” according to the review.

Munson said officials are hoping for an improvement in its outlook, rating or both.

“We’re very optimistic,” he said.

The number of new students has been growing daily, said Karen Hunt, executive director of administration.

“The numbers are increasing, but the important thing is that we’re meeting our goals,” Hunt said.

The enrollment goal for the university this year was 540 students, she said, and the university has exceeded that target so far. But the new enrollment numbers are slightly below the 579 new students who arrived on campus in 2013.

“It looks like we’re going to meet our goal. We’re really feeling great for the second year in a row. It has been difficult, not only for us, but for all Ohio colleges and universities,” Hunt said.

Additional cuts may be needed to cover the $3.5 million budget gap, Munson said.

“We have to look at all potential options to cover that $3.5 million shortfall, which could be to increase revenue or cut expenses … At this point we have not targeted any areas for cuts, but that’s something we’ll be working on for the next year to identify future cuts,” Munson said.

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