Boosting enrollment, retention key to solving WSU financial issues

Wright State University needs to boost its enrollment and retention rates, otherwise “cuts will become a way of life,” said board of trustees vice chair Doug Fecher.

“If we can’t get enrollment up then we’re faced with cuts,” said Fecher, chair of the board’s financial committee, which met Friday at WSU.

Wright State announced in October that it would eliminate 23 positions, including those of six faculty members.

The university has 17,775 students enrolled — 1,825 fewer than it had five years ago, according to director of institutional research Craig This. Wright State had its highest enrollment in 2010, at 19,793.

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Fecher called for the creation of a task force to focus on enrollment and retention. Improving those areas could help the university alleviate its financial troubles because they are the main considerations for state funding, officials said.

“The economic driver of the university is enrollment and retention,” Fecher said. “It brings tuition dollars, it brings state support, it helps us advance our academic mission.”

Wright State’s retention rate is measured by how many students return from one fall semester to the next fall semester, This said.

More than 65 percent of freshmen who started in the fall of 2015 on the college’s Dayton campus returned this fall, according to the university. While Wright State’s most recent retention rate is not its highest in recent history, it is about 10 percent above its lowest, which came from 2011 to 2012.

Officials said the drops in enrollment and retention in the fall of 2012 were largely due to the university switching from quarters to semesters and the economy improving after the Great Recession.

The university also is “fighting against the trend” of a declining number of high school graduates in Ohio, said provost Tom Sudkamp.

“The decline in that is going to go on for the foreseeable future,” he said.

President David Hopkins and Sudkamp said the university has been working to boost enrollment and retention, but that it may be a few years before the impact is realized. The best way to retain students is to make sure they have the proper support and the technology needed to communicate, Sudkamp said.

“Once you get them that support, it really is the key,” he said.

Officials ended a day of committee meetings discussing Wright State’s reputation and brand.

Fecher, who has been on the board for about 2 1/2 years, said that something at the university seems “just this off center.”

Hopkins told him it’s because he is looking at a “snapshot” of Wright State’s history, arguably some of its hardest times.

Hopkins, who is stepping down next summer, said that Wright State’s best assets are its people and that university leaders have forgotten that because the problems Wright State has dealt with recently have been “paralyzing.”

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