Wright State nearly doubles cash reserves in past two years

Wright State University has nearly doubled its cash reserves in the last two years as the school looks to rebound from a financial crisis that came close to draining its savings.

The university expects to add around $8.2 million to its reserve fund as it closes out its financial books for FY 2019. That’s about $5.2 million more than the $3 million the school’s FY 2019 budget required to be added to reserves.

The money increases the university’s cash reserves to more than $60 million after years of overspending drained it to $31 million in fiscal year 2017.

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WSU president Cheryl Schrader said that she’s “proud” of the school for building the surpluses while still providing “affordable and valuable academic opportunities.” The effort to save money has been a “collective effort spanning the entire university,” she said.

“We’ve been working hard on our finances,” Schrader said. “We knew we needed to make big changes and we have. Now it’s starting to pay off.”

Wright State trustees approved the school’s $245 million budget for fiscal year 2020 on Thursday after previous proposals fell short of what they were looking for. Last month, trustees told the administration to reconfigure the budget and its enrollment projections in more conservative way.

Instead of planning for a 14 percent decline in enrollment, the administration has budgeted for a 16 percent decrease to leave room in the event that the drop is bigger than expected. The budgeted enrollment decrease amounts to around an $18.8 million drop in tuition and fee revenue since last year.

A preliminary budget for fiscal year 2020 originally projected WSU would see an estimated $9 million decline in tuition revenue. Then an updated forecast presented to the board July 18 showed that decline estimated at $16.5 million.

But, trustees asked for even more wiggle room in the event that enrollment came in even lower, which led to the $18.8 million decline adopted in the 2020 budget.

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Regardless of whether enrollment comes in even lower than expected, WSU is on track to welcome fewer students to campus this month than it has in more than 37 years. Estimates released in July showed the enrollment projected at around 13,380 for this fall.

“This is a conservative estimate,” said Walt Branson, vice president for finance. “We believe that in the end, enrollment won’t be down as much as budgeted.”

Thursday’s meeting marked the third time the board of trustees convened to approve the budget.

The first time, in June, a closed-door executive session meeting ran long and the university canceled the budget hearing. The second time, in July, trustees asked for a budget that anticipated a greater enrollment decline than what the administration has projected.

The board opened Thursday’s meeting with a moment of silence in memory of Megan Betts, 22, who was a Wright State student killed in the Oregon District shooting nearly two weeks ago.

Schrader read a letter from an incoming student’s parent about the university’s response to the Dayton shooting.

In the days following the shooting, the university sent out emails to the campus community to let them know that Betts had been killed in the attack. WSU also hosted an event in the student union in memory of Betts.

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