Wright State president wraps up first year: Here are the 5 biggest challenges she faced

Cheryl Schrader, WSU president.
Caption
Cheryl Schrader, WSU president.

Cheryl Schrader has finished her first year as president of Wright State University, capping a year of challenges, many of which were inherited.

When Schrader was hired as Wright State’s seventh president, she knew the school was in the midst of a budget crisis.

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But, even with the widely known financial problems, Schrader was faced with a host of unexpected problems including some that were supposed to have been solved before she even arrived on campus, she said.

Below are the five biggest difficulties Schrader had to take on in her first year on the job at Wright State.

1. Revenue didn’t pan out

Wright State trustees slashed more than $30 million from the school’s budget in June 2017.

That proved not to be enough, as the school ended up having to shave another $20 million in spending in order to stay on budget for the first time since 2012.

At the end of fiscal year 2018, which ended June 30, WSU leaders had effectively cut around $50 million in spending from the school’s budget from the previous year.

2. State fiscal watch was a near certainty

Wright State needed to add around $6 million or so to its reserve fund in order to avoid being placed on state fiscal watch.

Under fiscal watch , WSU administrators would have needed to adopt a financial recovery plan with an eye toward ending the status of fiscal watch within three years, according to state law. They would be required to produce forecasts for getting the school’s finances back on track, and if the administration did not do this the chancellor of the Ohio Department of Higher Education could appoint someone to make those decisions for the university.

At this point the university is expected to add $7 million or more to its savings, meaning it will likely avoid fiscal watch.

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3. Unexpected health care costs

Around $5.5 million in unexpected health care costs popped up this spring for employees or their families who are covered by the university’s health care plan. Claims have increased or decreased by as much as $500,000 in a single week, according to the university.

Chief business officer Walt Branson and trustee Sean Fitzpatrick have said the large claims may be from employees or their family members who had major medical problems this year or are about to retire or leave the university.

“The medical insurance was a big wild card that got thrown in,” Branson said in February.

In the end, the university was able to absorb the cost of unforeseen claims and stay on budget.

4. Enrollment declines

Wright State’s enrollment this year was projected to hit its lowest point in a decade, and next fall the school’s total enrollment is expected to drop below 17,000 for the first time since 2007.

Tuition is the school’s biggest source of revenue, so fewer students translates to less money. Schrader has hired a consulting firm to help boost the school’s enrollment.

Enrollment remains a focus and one of the biggest priorities for Schrader and her administration, going into year two of her presidency.

» RELATED: Ohio State raised more than $600 million in donations last year

5. No faculty union contract

Schrader inherited the outstanding issue of contract negotiations with Wright State’s faculty union.

Negotiations were supposed to have been completed by the time she took office, she said. But, more than a year later, a deal still hasn’t been reached.

Faculty union members have threatened to strike if an agreement is not set, and one of the group’s leaders has gone so far as to call Schrader an “unproven president” for her role in the stalled negotiations.

Talks are ongoing and an update could come some time in September, said union president Martin Kich.

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