Wright State’s budget in better shape, but university still missing student retention goals

Trustees say they have a positive outlook on the university’s future.

Wright State University is in a better place financially compared to seven years ago when it was forced to cut $30.8 million from its spending budget, but trustees say the university has not met all of its goals, particularly in retaining students through graduation.

In the 2024-2026 Campus Completion Plan, a document required by the state to outline a university’s goals, school administrators said some goals set in 2020 and 2022 have not been met.

The university set a goal to increase new student rates of retention to 75% and graduation rates to 54% by the 2025-2026 school year by incrementally increasing each rate by at least 2% each year since fall 2020.

The university has increased the rates of both retention and recruitment, but not by 2% each year.

WSU’s retention rate has been 64% for the entering classes of fall 2021 and fall 2022. Graduation rates rose from 44% to 46%, but the graduation goal of 54% is unlikely to be met by the 2025-2026 school year.

The university has plans to continue to improve those numbers, including adding a freshman seminar, redesigning courses to help failing students and notifying students who have stopped attending classes they may be eligible for an associate’s degree. The freshman seminar will be first required for students in the fall of 2025, said Bob Mihalek, university spokesman.

“This is another example of scaling and a strategic approach to a student success practice that was existing but has been expanded to have a greater impact,” Mihalek said.

WSU saw growth in enrollment last fall for the first time since 2015. Susan Schaurer, Wright State’s vice president for enrollment management, said the university is continuing to see interest because the university is less expensive to attend than some other public universities but is still considered a way to get a good job.

“Wright State is a leader amongst Ohio’s public universities and is there at the top,” Schaurer said. “We are certainly fulfilling the mission and purpose of higher education.”

Wright State, like many universities, is facing a declining number of high schoolers as the birth rate in the U.S. continues to fall. The state of Ohio expects to see a 11% decline in the number of high school graduates through 2037, according to Wright State.

WSU is also seeing fewer transfer students from community colleges as those students have chosen to work rather than continue their education, Schaurer said.

Other barriers to retention include student finances and incoming students not being ready for college academically, Mihalek said.

But the university has a positive outlook on recruitment, and the university president, Sue Edwards, says she is looking forward to the fall.

“We continue to make great progress,” she said. “Recruitment, retention, and relationships continue to remain our focus, and I’m looking forward to welcoming a new freshmen class into the Raider and Laker families this fall.”

Finances have overall improved, trustees said at the June 14 meeting. Officials point to gains the university has made since 2017, when the university’s finances were at a low point. The university’s Moody’s rating has increased from a Baa2 rating in 2017 to an A2 rating in 2024.

“The university has achieved a material strengthening of its balance sheet that is reflected in three rating upgrades within a span of four years by Moody’s Investors Services,” said Wright State trustee Beth Ferris, chair of the Finance, Audit, Governance, and Compliance Committee.

This upcoming school year, the university expects to have $253.8 million in revenue, including $70.3 million of state financial support, during the coming fiscal year, which begins in July and runs until next June.

WSU expects to spend about $255.5 million in the 2024-2025 fiscal year and trustees authorized a 3% employee salary increase effective July 1, the university announced in a campus-wide email Friday.

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