Wittenberg meets enrollment goal

581 first-year students on campus as claases began Monday.

By the numbers:

$70.7 million — Estimated annual economic impact on Clark County

*581 — New students enrolled for 2014

579 — New students enrolled in 2013

521 — New students enrolled in 2012

*Official enrollment counts will be available Sept. 12

Wittenberg University announced Monday that it surpassed its enrollment goal this year.

There were 581 first-year students who began the new school year at the university Monday.

The enrollment goal for the university this year was 565 new students, but the university so far has exceeded that target by nearly 3 percent, said Karen Hunt, executive director of administration.

Official enrollment numbers will be available Sept. 12.

“We’re very pleased with both the size and the quality of the incoming class,” Hunt said.

University officials also said the class of 2018 has an average high school grade point average of 3.5, and includes 117 National Honor Society members, five Community Engagement Scholars, nine Student Leader Fellows, five Entrepreneurship Fellows, eight Art Scholars, eight Theatre Scholars, five Dance Scholars, two Environmental Science Scholars, and 40 students who received a music scholarship, according to Karen Gerboth, university spokeswoman.

A snapshot of the class also shows that new students are from 25 different states and 12 countries, including The Netherlands, Japan, France, India and Vietnam, according to Gerboth.

Enrollment numbers are above the 579 new students who arrived on campus in 2013 and the 521 who enrolled in 2012.

University officials attributed the increased enrollment and diversity of the new students to administration outreach efforts at high schools, Lutheran churches and Wittenberg alumni, especially those who are teachers and guidance counselors.

The increase in enrollment comes as the university is struggling financially.

The university estimates its economic impact in Springfield at $70.7 million annually.

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, according to previous reports.

A total of 29 faculty positions were eliminated — most of the positions were vacant and two tenured professors are retiring, university officials have said.

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

Moody’s, a top credit rating firm, affirmed the university’s B1 rating with a negative outlook on $35 million of debt issued through the Ohio Higher Educational Facility Commission.

A B1 rating is below investment grade, is considered speculative and is subject to high credit risk, according to Moody’s.

In the 2014 report, Moody’s cited enrollment declines, tuition discounting, thin financial resources and cash flow, and aging campus structures that would require upgrades in the future.

The report, however, did recognize that Wittenberg President Laurie Joyner is leading efforts to stabilize the university’s operations and improve its financial position and noted that the university’s operations showed “modest” improvement in 2013, following expense reductions.

“Wittenberg University’s negative outlook reflects expected weak performance over the next two years as the university’s board and management work to stabilize operations through aggressive expense oversight and enrollment management in the face of stagnant to declining tuition revenues and continued liquidity pressures,” according to Moody’s.

Hunt said the increase in enrollment will help the university as it tries to reduce debt and generate revenue.

“When we meet or exceed our goals with the head count, the good news is that it looks like we’ve also met or exceeded our goals with revenue … They go hand and hand. That’s great news, and it’s going to help Witt to close the financial gap that we’ve been facing for the past couple years,” Hunt said.

Wittenberg has added four new business majors, a change university officials said will allow students to gain more valuable experience and develop better contacts with local businesses

The university is also partnering with Clark State in a nursing program that will allow students to get both their Associate’s and Bachelor’s degrees in four years.

Hunt said university officials expect those programs will help Wittenberg’s enrollment continue to climb, especially as the number of traditional college students in the region are declining.

“We’re definitely going in the right direction,” Hunt said. “Every year in the world of recruiting the next class of students comes with its own challenges, especially in these economic times and the demographics that there are. So we still have challenges ahead there’s no doubt, but the creation of the new academic programs at Witt will help us in the years to come to keep those numbers strong.”