“We know this process is bigger than our emotions about it, but we know our emotions about the process are very real,” said President of Wilson College, Dr. Barbara Mistick.
“I hear this every day from students on campus and our alumnae. Everyone wants to see us weather another 100 years of history,” said Chair of English and Mass Communications Department, Dr. Michael Cornelius, as he presented all of the materials that had been put together from the subcommittees of the Commission.
While they have not been able to address all of the mail that has come in, the response has been the most helpful. Cornelius painted a bleak financial picture fur the college. The 2012 budget deficit is $3,056,200 which has led to a total college debt of $31,180,000.
This was a shock for many alumnae and students who were not aware of the financial picture. Much of this debt comes from deferred maintenance of buildings. If the college were simply to try and fundraise out of this situation, an additional $5.8 million per year is needed to raise the endowment from the current $57 million to $174 million.
“It has been helpful for us, as a Commission, to receive mail from the community at large and that will be seen here,” said Cornelius. “We have addressed concerns that came up at the last open house meeting.”
To combat this debt, the Commission has compiled the preliminary ideas from the first open house meeting into the set of draft recommendations. The first of the recommendations presented were from the Pricing and Finance subcommittee. The potential recommendation is to price Wilson competitively to both attract new students and retain current students. One way is to guarantee the tuition rate for either four years or guarantee a rate increase. Another idea is to establish a debt buyback program for students to minimize their debt. This would be available to students who meet certain criteria while in school.
The Commission will also be creating a master plan for the maintenance of the facilities on campus to be able to renovate academic spaces, residence halls, athletic facilities, and information technology. The idea is to plan and fund the facility repairs that are needed.
The college will also have to create a new marketing culture for the campus. This would include establishing a set of visibility initiatives that would develop both on campus programs and relationships with local or regional businesses. The idea would be to create a marketing strategy and integrate a new brand throughout the campus; this would include direct and frequent communication with alumnae/i and within varying departments on campus.
Another idea to help with both recruitment and retention is to create a 'Wilson experience'. This would be a student exchange program to create opportunities for both students here and at other schools whom may want to focus on a distinct program, for example theater.
New programs will be initiated, some starting as early as Spring 2013. Some of the programs will expand current programs and use the resources available. Others will take current majors in a new direction. There are still majors that will be cut or changed to minors or concentrations.
“Any changes we make in the elimination of programs will not affect our current students,” said Mistick.
“Anyone that is currently enrolled in a program that might be changed in the future, we will honor your commitment and make sure you complete that program here at Wilson.”
The big question however is if the college is financially stable enough to simply enact all of these programs. The college would still have a financial deficit of $2.5 million in 2020 and a cumulative debt of $23.9 million. This is where the problem lies for Wilson. Cornelius explained the idea of opening enrollment across the board to male students and to allow them to live on campus. It would be completed in two phases; the first would allow commuter men in the Fall of 2013 and then residential men would start in the Fall of 2014.
This would mean that the mission statement fur the college would have to change again, but this would be done in an open setting so that students, alumnae/i, faculty, and staff all have a say in the new statement. They would establish WiTTi - the Wilson Think Tank Initiative to keep abreast of the changes.
“We have been talking about the survival of the institution and if it can or not. The answer is yes, it can survive," said Cornelius. ''I firmly believe that. I think everyone on the commission believes that and I hope everyone here does as well. We are all committed to this institution, but the challenges are significant"