The University of Dayton’s current financial footing is strong and the steps being taken to restructure — which could include cuts to programs and jobs — are intended to get ahead of changing demographics and the fallout from the pandemic, the school’s president said.
Fewer students are choosing college, and fewer high schoolers are graduating in the Midwest. That decline, along with five years of net-revenue losses expected from the pandemic, is why UD must transform, President Eric Spina said in an exclusive interview with the Dayton Daily News.
“We’re in good shape, we have been, we’re going to continue to be,” Spina said. “We’re trying to be proactive.”
The University of Dayton is one of the largest employers in the region. It employs 2,797 full-time and 1,091 part-time workers.
The school had revenues of nearly $775 million and expenses of nearly $744 million listed on its 2019 tax forms, the most recent ones publicly available. Its endowment was listed as more than $603 million on those tax records.
The school must have long-term stability and be able to meet future workforce needs, said Chris Kershner, president & CEO of the Dayton Area Chamber of Commerce.
“Making the right decision isn’t always easy; it’s about setting the path toward a long-term vision that positions an organization well for today and into the future,” Kershner said.
What could be cut?
The university hasn’t said how much money it’s aiming to save through these changes. No decisions about cuts have been made.
Spina previously said in a message to campus that changes to the following would be considered, as well as other ideas once the campus community and leadership had been consulted:
The school will look at all programs, but particularly graduate programs, Spina said in his interview last week. The number of enrolled students alone won’t determine how likely a program is to get cut.
“We have to think about how central it is to our mission,” Spina said. “We have to think about the quality of the program. We have to think about the demand for the program.”
Spina said the university may also want to have smaller entering classes, not larger, and must consider how their housing programs support students and build community.
“You think about our university and the value in personal relationships and being able to wrap your arms around the university,” Spina said. “I think if we got any larger, we would lose some of the special character of UD.”
UD also has a program that works with what students’ experiences with the community would be year by year, and considers how they can support it through their housing.
Implementation of any changes would begin in the 2023 fiscal year budget.
The university plans to have a Committee on Sustainable Institutional Transformation, made up of administrators, faculty and trustees, take on a planning initiative to look at the long-term sustainability of UD.
Spina previously said this overhaul would have minimal, if any, impact on students and their families. While it has not made a final count of students, the university predicts record-high enrollment of about 12,000 students this year, up about 3% from last fall.
What about community investments?
The investments the university has made in some Dayton landmarks will continue, Spina said.
UD and the Entrepreneurs Center have teamed up to create The Hub at the Dayton Arcade, a nearly 100,000-square-foot, $10 million community engagement and academic project with a 10-year lease.
The Hub has already proven to be worth it for students, Spina said, and they are getting experience and internships just by working with people downtown.
“There’s already a lot of evidence of those at some companies that are now in The Hub, they are engaging with our students, they’re hiring them as interns to do marketing plans and develop business plans,” Spina said.
OnMain is a joint venture by Premier Health and the University of Dayton, to redevelop the 37-acre former fairgrounds site. Premier Health and UD have already spent at least $12.5 million acquiring the property, preparing the site for development and creating the vision for the onMain District.
The site was bought with the thought of 200 years in the future, Spina said.
“We’re continuing to work with partners to think about what’s the first building, what’s the second building, when does housing get built,” Spina said.
He said UD needs to make sure it supports Dayton as it’s an anchor institution.
“We want the city to continue to flourish and continue to grow,” Spina said.
Spina believes many other universities are looking at their enrollments and thinking about their future. Some are simply being more transparent about the process.
“We’ve decided to be pretty public about it because we don’t want people to be surprised if we close program X or stop doing Y,” Spina said.
Faculty said they appreciated the transparency.
Leslie H. Picca, Roesch Chair in the Social Sciences and a professor of sociology, said senior leadership has been open about the process and created multiple opportunities for discussion.
“My hope and expectation is that CSIT will continue to consult broadly, authentically and frequently with the UD community as key decisions are being made,” Picca said.
Joseph M. Valenzano, chair of the Department of Communication, said he prefers to see this as an opportunity for the university to shape its own future.
“By proactively addressing challenges now we can chart our own path for the future while protecting the university’s students, employees, mission and legacy,” Valenzano said.