Central State taken off fiscal watch as Wright State edges toward it

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Central State taken off fiscal watch as Wright State edges toward it

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John Carey, chancellor of the Ohio Department of Higher Education, speaks at Central State University. Carey visited CSU on Thursday to announce the school had been removed from fiscal watch. CSU president Cynthia Jackson-Hammond also spoke about the university’s improved finances.

As Central State University exits fiscal watch by the state, Ohio’s higher education chief warned that Wright State University could be on the brink of entering it.

Chancellor John Carey visited CSU early Thursday to make the university’s improved financial position official.

“You went through some very rough times and made some very difficult decisions for the benefit of the campus and for the students,” Carey said.

Central State was placed on fiscal watch in 2015, after it fell below a state threshold measuring financial health two years in a row.

The state measures every public college’s fiscal health with something called a “Senate Bill 6 score,” an annual rating of 0 to 5. Any school that falls below a 1.75 two years in a row is put on notice.

Central State scored a 1.3 in 2013 and a 1 in 2014. Since then, CSU’s scores increased to 2.3 in 2015 and then to 2.8 last year.

To get removed from fiscal watch, a university must meet a rating of at least 2.4 and must also remediate all conditions that led to its financial troubles.

“This is very important for the university,” said president Cynthia Jackson-Hammond . “No one likes to be on fiscal watch but it was an opportunity for us to regroup, rethink, re-strategize and re-position ourselves for a better future.”

A decline in enrollment and students’ difficulty in qualifying for federal financial aid were major challenges for the historically-black university, Jackson-Hammond has said.

CSU’s fall enrollment decreased by more than 15 percent from 2,068 in 2013 to 1,751 in 2015, according to the state. As of fall 2016, that number had ticked up to 1,804, according to a preliminary state enrollment report.

Central State and Owens Community College near Toledo are the only two Ohio colleges that have been placed on fiscal watch. Wright State is trying to avoid becoming the third.

With a Senate Bill 6 score of 2.1, WSU now has the lowest rating of Ohio’s 14 public universities and 23 community colleges. WSU’s score is down from a 2.4 in 2015, according to state records.

Wright State would still need to fall below the 1.75 threshold two years in a row but Carey said it could happen.

“I think there is that possibility,” Carey said after the announcement Thursday. “They’re working very hard to avoid going into fiscal watch… if they’re unable to make the right decisions within enough time, they could go into fiscal watch.”

WSU, just 20 minutes northeast of CSU in Greene County, has to slash $25 million from its upcoming budget while also increasing reserve funds by $5 million. Wright State may lay off up to 120 people in order to save $8 million but layoffs won’t be announced until next month, school officials have said.

“If you use the Senate Bill 6 standards, there is a distinct possibility that Wright State could be put on fiscal watch,” said Michael Bridges, chairman of the WSU board of trustees. “We’ll already be getting healthier by the time that happens though.”

Central State implemented its own budget constraints to correct its finances. CSU cut expenses by more than $10 million in 2015 and also sought to boost enrollment. Like Central State, Owens has also been removed from fiscal watch.

CSU’s president offered some support to WSU leaders as they prepare to face down their own financial problems.

“I think Wright State has the right leadership and the right team there to be able to work through whatever challenges that they’re having,” Jackson-Hammond said. “I trust that they will be as successful as we are.”

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