Wright State has $1.5B economic impact on the region. Will cuts affect that?

Wright State University, faced with enrollment declines and a sagging economy, will cut jobs while shoring up STEM-related degree programs, moves school leaders believe will allow it to meet the demand for jobs and maintain its more than $1.5 billion economic impact on the region.

As part of the reduction plan, the university announced last week it will cut up to 113 faculty positions ― many of them in the liberal arts department ― and boost programs that include medical and engineering.

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It’s not clear what impact Wright State’s job cuts will have on the region long-term, but given the continued enrollment declines and the struggling economy, the university made a decision it believes is in its best interest to remain viable, said Cassie Barlow, president of Southwestern Ohio Council on Higher Education.

“Universities go through times where they need to cinch their belts a little bit, and they go through times where they can let their belt out a little bit,” she said.

Likewise, institutions have to adjust and make tough decisions about cutting certain degree programs and shoring up others based on the community’s needs, Barlow said, referring to WSU’s decision to trim its liberal arts department and beef up its STEM-related programs.



According to the Dayton Regional Workforce Portal, the following sectors are in demand in the Dayton region: health care/bioscience, advance manufacturing, business services, information technology, aerospace, and logistics and transportation.

“There’re lots of businesses in our community that had to pivot this year as well, based on the economy, so I don’t see (WSU’s cuts) as any different,” Barlow said. “They want to continue to provide great workforce to our local businesses, and to Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, so the fact that they’re really focusing on what the needs of the community are, I think that’ll be positive for our community and for our economy.”

But Noellen McIlvenna, president of the AAUP-WSU, the unionized faculty at Wright State, and a professor of American history, said she is worried about the jobs that would be lost. She also is concerned about the possible loss of opportunities for students.

“It’s very sad,” she said. “I just think it’s unnecessary, it just leaves me bewildered.”

Wright State has a more than $1.5 billion impact on the Dayton economy and supports 20,000 jobs, according to a 2018 SOCHE study.

The university says it plays an important role in keeping students in the area after graduation. About 72% of alumni who have graduated in the past five years live in “Raider Country,” what WSU calls the 16-county area of Allen, Aug­laize, Butler, Champaign, Clark, Clinton, Darke, Greene, Logan, Mercer, Miami, Montgomery, Preble, Shelby, Van Wert and Warren counties.

“Wright State is your university,” President Susan Edwards said during a trustee’s meeting on Feb. 19. “We will ensure that our educational mission is upheld. We will continue to provide the region with an exceptionally affordable, high-quality, accessible, post-secondary education. We are committed to work with each of our students, to meet them where they are and to support and guide them to success.”

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Enrollment at Ohio universities falls

Wright State is not the only university that has seen enrollment fall. Main campus universities across Ohio have seen their enrollment decline steadily since 2010 ― when 338,300 students were enrolled ― to 316,153 enrolled in 2019, according to the Ohio Department of Higher Education,

Statewide about 26,814 fewer community college students enrolled in 2019 compared to 2010, about a 12% decline.

Many colleges and universities have seen a decline in their student populations during the COVID-19 pandemic, but official 2020 enrollment totals have not been released.

Greg Lawson, a research fellow with the Buckeye Institute, a conservative think tank that works on higher education in Ohio, said it’s not surprising that students might be considering other options when deciding what their best choices are.

“Students may also start choosing some of the community colleges a little bit more as opposed to the four-year universities to get Associates, because sometimes that’s a pipeline in to four year schools, or for a lot of folks to get a certificate that they then can use for employment,” he said.

ExploreWright State trustees vote to move forward with faculty cuts

Health care needs

The Dayton region has a huge demand for health care jobs right now. Wright State, with its Boonshoft School of Medicine, School of Professional Psychology and new College of Health, Education and Human Services, is set up to train students to fill many of those jobs.

Sarah Hackenbracht, president and CEO of the Greater Dayton Area Hospital Association, said Wright State is an integral partner to many of the region’s hospitals.

No one hospital serves as the teaching and research hospital for Wright State medical students, Hackenbracht said. Instead, students work in hospitals across the region, which can help them decide where they would like to work after graduation, she said.

Wright State consulted with all the area hospitals, GDAHA, home health care services, nursing homes and others in the medical field in Dayton when it created the College of Health, Education and Human Services, Hackenbracht said. The school will also teach an integrated care delivery system, something Hackenbracht said would help students when they come into the professional environment.



That includes training not only nurses and doctors to work together, but also to work with social workers, mental health providers and others to provide patient care. Critical care nurses, mental health providers and social workers are in high demand, Hackenbracht said.

Hospitals and health partners, such as nursing homes and home health care services, have to work together, Hackenbracht said. It doesn’t help any agency to compete for the small number of nurses, social workers or mental health workers, she added.

“We really need to be working together to make sure that we are working with the education partners to fulfill our shared needs,” she said.

Wright State plans to expand enrollment in its medical school, nursing programs and social work programs, as well as in its School of Professional Psychology, the school said.

ExploreDean: Boonshoft School of Medicine plans to expand enrollment

Wright-Patterson Air Force Base

During the Feb. 19 board meeting, trustees asked Edwards to discuss the partnerships that Wright State has with Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, the largest single site employer in Ohio with more than 30,000 jobs.

“The Dayton region depends highly on Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, therefore, it’s our job to make sure that we are providing an educated workforce for them,” Edwards said. “We have been cementing our relationships with Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, working with the multiple constituents that we have over there to ensure that we hear them and we understand what their needs are, not only for today, but also for years to come.”

Many Wright State students are hired each year at Wright-Patterson, Edwards said, and many more participate in internships on-base and with defense contractors. Some graduate students also support Air Force research projects.

Wright State’s externally sponsored grant and contract awards regularly approach $100 million, she added, and more than half of that funding is used to support basic and applied research projects, capitalizing on the university’s expertise in the areas of sensors, health care, human performance, cybersecurity, and cognitive and social sciences.



Heidi Ries, chief academic officer for the Air Force Institute of Technology on base, said she doesn’t have details about Wright State’s job cuts and restructuring, so it’s difficult to determine if Wright-Patt will be impacted.

“Depending upon what (if any) programs are cut, it could potentially reduce the number of student interns that can be recruited to participate in our research programs during the academic year,” Ries said. “In addition, there could be reduced educational opportunities for the WPAFB workforce.”

Christopher E. Kershner, president and CEO of the Dayton Area Chamber of Commerce, said Wright State is an asset for the Dayton region and the entire state.

“WSU’s strategic initiatives with WPAFB, academic institutions and industry are helping meet the workforce demands of our region,” he said. “This is a significant value that we must maintain.”

STEM fields are becoming increasingly important, said Lawson, the Buckeye Institute fellow.

“It’s always been important, but another interesting dynamic is that you may see it start to play a larger role is that there’s a lot of concern about international competitiveness, especially in the context of China. The universities need to be able to be what students want,” Lawson said.

By the numbers:

$1.5 Billion: Estimated economic impact

81,694: Wrights State alumni (72.43%) live in Ohio

31,103: Alumni (27.57%) out of state