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Wright State fall tuition revenue comes in millions under budget estimates

Wright State University’s fall tuition revenue has so far come in millions of dollars under projections, financial documents show.

Revenue from tuition and fees in August was $2.1 million under estimates in the fiscal year 2019 budget, according to a report to be presented to the WSU board of trustees Friday. The shortfall could result in tuition and fee revenue totaling $2.4 million under budget for the entire academic year, the report states.

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“It’s an issue we have to deal with,” said Walt Branson, vice president for finance and chief business officer. “But, in the context of where we’ve been from a year ago versus today, our financial picture is so much better.”

The bigger than predicted decline will likely come as unwelcome news to WSU leaders since tuition is the single biggest source of revenue for most colleges.

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Wright State is also trying to recover from a financial crisis that forced trustees to slash more than $30.8 million from the school’s budget in 2017. Those cuts ended up not being enough though and the school ended up reducing spending by around $53 million in fiscal year 2018.

In June, trustees approved a FY 2019 budget that projected another $10-million decline in revenue for Wright State.

Branson said he didn’t anticipate that the tuition shortfall would mean more budget cuts were on the way. The university, he said, will be able to make up for it through other efficiencies and there will likely be fewer financial surprises than there were last year.

Around $5.5 million in unexpected health care costs occurred last spring for employees or their families who are covered by the university’s health care plan.  Unbudgeted scholarship and fellowship expenses also cost the school around $3.5 million last fall.

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“I can’t say that I don’t worry about that but we really tried hard to put together a realistic budget this year,” Branson said. “Part of the problem in the past is that there were items that should be budgeted that units knew they were going to have an expense for but for whatever reason they didn’t put that in the budget.”

Wright State board of trustees chairman Doug Fecher declined to comment directly on the latest tuition shortfall until after Friday’s meeting. But, Fecher said it’s “too early to tell” how revenue will pan out this year since classes started less than a month ago.

Fecher and president Cheryl Schrader have both called for the university to begin focusing on boosting revenue rather than continuing to slash budgets in the coming years.

“It’s all about revenue enhancement,” Fecher said today. “We’ve done most of the cutting that we can probably do.”

Wright State administrators had already been anticipating an enrollment decline this fall that would have translated to a $3.5-million loss in revenue. The additional loss of $2.1 million would mean that estimate would end up being around a $5.6 million decline in tuition revenue.

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The school’s total enrollment was projected to dip below 17,000 students this fall for the first time since 2007. The number of students enrolled at Wright State was projected to be around 16,224 this fall, nearly 3,550 below the school’s peak in 2010 when a transition from quarters to semesters started taking place.

The actual number came in around 15,558 students, Branson said.

International enrollment has been the main cause of the decline of students at WSU. Wright State’s international enrollment has decreased by 779 students since 2015, according to the school.

Last month, the university named Paul Carney to replace Mary Ellen Ashley as vice president of enrollment management on an interim basis. Ashley plans to retire on Oct. 3, according to WSU.

Wright State has also hired the firm Ruffalo Noel and Levitz to develop ways to boost enrollment. The company “partners with colleges and nonprofit organizations to help them enroll their classes, graduate their students, and engage their donors,” according to its website.

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