Photo of the Chapel of the Immaculate Conception taken by Sean Newhouse
With a series of new committees, the University of Dayton is preparing for an uncertain financial future.
Since before the 2008 Great Recession, a number of trends have caused concerns for colleges and universities across the country. UD is examining these factors and acting accordingly, President Eric Spina said in a letter to the campus community, titled “Charting a Path Forward Together at the University of Dayton.”
One of the factors noted was the changing demographics in the U.S. The number of 18-year-olds in the U.S. is expected to decline in nearly every state for the next decade. Additionally, there is a growing concern surrounding the price of university, which affects the willingness of students to apply to certain colleges.
Other shifts include the decline of international students, slowed growth in online programs and a lack of public confidence in the American higher education system, Spina said.
The impact of these changes is strongly felt at UD due to the school’s location, history and even educational mission, Spina said. The demographic downturn is severe in the Midwest, and the historical lack of fundraising has left the school heavily reliant on undergraduate tuition.
Despite the need to make difficult financial decisions, the university currently sustains a positive operating margin, and gifts to UD are at an all-time high.
To respond to these growing concerns, however, the university is looking to make significant changes to ensure its sustainability and success.
“We must read these signs of the times—and adapt and change to meet the critical educational needs of the communities we serve,” Spina said. “We must adapt and change the alignment of our budget, and particularly our expenses, with the external reality and our evolving strategy.”
These measures will require a long-term perspective, making structural and budgetary changes to maintain financial stability. Spina, as well as Provost Paul Benson and Executive Vice President Andy Horner, have met with various departments to discuss the university’s overarching strategy with faculty. These sessions will extend into the month of February, with all faculty and staff encouraged to attend.
Also beginning in February, a steering committee and four working groups will be established to help think beyond the university’s current business model. The university has also consulted with the Executive Committee of the Academic Senate.
“(Our strategy) should be about sharpening our priorities and focus, which could include doing less in some instances or becoming smaller in some areas,” Spina said. “This collaborative effort will require us to identify our highest priorities and ultimately make some hard decisions.”
The earliest adjustments will need to be made as early as the spring and summer, Spina said. However, no specific decisions on what to change have been made.
Spina distinguished several areas for investing or re-allocating funds, including fundraising, student wellbeing and success and non-academic revenue growth that could mitigate expense reductions.
“This initiative is not crisis-driven,” Spina said. “It is a serious exercise that will require our best, and we will need to approach it with urgency to maintain our success.”