INVESTIGATION: What’s causing colleges to falter financially?

Credit: DaytonDailyNews

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At least five Dayton area colleges have struggled financially over the last few years.

Credit: DaytonDailyNews

While higher education is facing leaner times throughout the country, area universities have faced tough finances for a variety of reasons, including some that were self inflicted.

At least five colleges in the region have struggled financially over the last few years. A Dayton Daily News investigation this week looks at these area colleges and others to see what is causing the financial issues.

Some experts told us there are too many colleges and universities in Ohio and one higher education analyst suggested that more than 500 schools would close across the United States in the next decade.

Antioch College in Yellow Springs has struggled to remain open in the past decade and Urbana University in Champaign County had to be purchased by another college in order to survive. The area’s two historically black schools, Central State University and Wilberforce University, have also struggled with finances over the last few years.

RELATED: Sinclair Community College could raise tuition, give employees pay raises

And Wright State University is in the middle of dealing with a financial crisis that has included millions in budget cuts.

Here’s what happened at each of the five colleges.

Wright State University

Wright State recently implemented $30.8 million of budget cuts.

The move was an attempt to correct years of overspending as WSU has spent more money than it’s generated since 2012.

RELATED: WSU trustees approve more than $30.8 million in budget cuts

The school announced earlier this month that it would lay off around 57 employees as part of an overall elimination of 189 positions, which will save the university more than $13.9 million.

The school could also eliminate its men’s and women’s swimming and diving teams, on top of other cuts.

Officials have said the university is heading for state fiscal watch and will likely be placed on it by 2019. Despite recent cuts, Wright State’s financial problems have not been fully resolved.

The school still has to rebuild its reserves by adding around $45 million over the next few years, state and WSU officials have said. To boost reserves, WSU will look to up enrollment, sell assets and as a last resort, make more cuts.

Antioch College

Antioch College’s residential campus closed in 2008 in the wake of significant declining enrollment and financial challenges.

The 2008 closure came after the college had expanded to several branch campuses across the country, known as the Antioch University system. Those branches remain open and there is currently a branch in Yellow Springs called Antioch University.

RELATED: Antioch University in Yellow Springs could move to south Dayton

In 2009, a group of Antioch College alumni formed a group to reopen the college as a separate entity. They did so in 2011.

While Antioch College was seemingly brought back from the dead, it still faces the prospect of rebuilding its enrollment and becoming competitive enough to prevent what happened once before from happening again. The college’s alumni have been a big force in keeping the school afloat, donating their time and hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Urbana University

In 2014, Urbana University officials announced that the school would be sold to Franklin University in Columbus.

Financial details about the agreement were never disclosed. But, the purchase was necessary because of long-term debt at Urbana and administrative decisions that led to deficit spending, according to information from the universities and tax forms filed with the Internal Revenue Service.

RELATED: Urbana University begins first year after rare, rapid acquisition

The financial issues also led Urbana to lay off nine faculty and staff in 2014 as well.

Urbana now functions as something of a branch campus of Franklin University, though it has maintained its sports teams and name. Later this year, that designation is expected to be made official once final approval is granted by the Higher Learning Commission, said David Decker, president of Franklin University.

Central State University

Central State University was placed on state fiscal watch in 2015 and came off of it this past April.

CSU was placed on fiscal watch after its finances dropped below a state threshold used to gauge the financial health of Ohio’s public colleges.

RELATED: Central State removed from fiscal watch as Wright State edges toward it

Declining student enrollment and students’ difficulty in qualifying for federal financial aid were then major challenges for the historically-black university in Wilberforce, president Cynthia 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 has faced a number of other problems specific to it being an HBCU. Jackson-Hammond traveled to Washington, D.C. in February to meet with President Donald Trump, where leaders of black colleges asked for more funding to update and better sustain their institutions.

Wilberforce University

Like CSU’s leader, Wilberforce University president Herman Felton also traveled to D.C. to seek more support for historically black colleges.

Wilberforce University has faced its share of financial difficulties as well.

RELATED: Wilberforce University announces layoffs, pay cuts and furlough for employees

The university cut $750,000 from its payroll budget in November. Layoffs, furloughs and pay cuts were implemented in May as Wilberforce continues to right-size its budget.

Wilberforce University, the oldest historically black private university in the country, was at risk of losing its accreditation from mid-2014 through most of 2015, due to declining enrollment. The school was issued a “show cause” order from the Higher Learning Commission that was later lifted in November 2015 after enrollment increased by more than 85 percent to around 650 students.

Read the Dayton Daily News’ full investigation online Thursday and in print on Sunday.

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