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Posted: October 16, 2012

A commission formed by Wilson College to find ways to help the college reach a strategic enrollment goal of more than 1,300 students and achieve long-term financial sustainability is holding a series of open campus meetings this fall to present data and gather feedback before making recommendations.

Formed last spring at the request of the Wilson Board of Trustees, the 23-member Commission on Shaping the Future of Wilson College is made up of all college constituencies — trustees, administrators, alumnae/alumni, faculty, staff and students. The commission is charged with reviewing institutional and market data, and making recommendations aimed at creating the “optimum scenario” for the future of the college.

The commission formed five subcommittees: programs, markets, pricing and finance, quality of life, and college success stories. Committees have been meeting extensively over the summer to study a wide range of information from all relevant sources.

“We are examining all options at this point. Everything right now is on the table. No idea is too big or too small” said commission chair Leslie Durgin, a 1969 Wilson College graduate and member of the Wilson Board of Trustees. “We know that, like many other colleges, Wilson College will need to make some significant changes in order to thrive into the future.”

The commission’s first open campus meeting was held Sept. 4 and the second was held Wednesday, Oct. 17, when five subcommittees presented a range of ideas to help the college grow.

Commission members were appointed in May by Wilson President Barbara K. Mistick, who also sits on the group. The commission will make final draft recommendations to Mistick on Oct. 30, followed by an open campus meeting on Nov. 1 to present the recommendations.

The commission will forward its final recommendations to the president on Nov. 12 and she will present her recommendations to the Board of Trustees for approval at a special Dec. 1 meeting.

“This process is meant to be as inclusive and transparent as possible,” said Mistick. “We want all members of the Wilson College community — students, alumni, faculty and staff — to be engaged and to feel free to express their opinions and concerns. Ultimately, we all want the same thing — for Wilson to become a thriving, economically sustainable institution in today’s marketplace.”

The Wilson College 2010-15 Strategic Plan set an enrollment goal of 1,000 students, but studies done through the commission process have shown that the college must enroll more than 1,300 students in order to reach financial sustainability over the long term.

Total enrollment at the college has remained flat over the past 10 years. The total average enrollment from fiscal 2003 through 2012 — including the College for Women, Adult Degree Program and graduate programs — was 763 students.

“We are sufficiently realistic to know that there is no ‘one big idea’ that will assure Wilson’s success; neither will a set of small changes on the margin achieve our goals,” Durgin said. “We need to develop a strategic vision of Wilson that is achievable, affordable, accessible, and both honors our past while positioning the college to successfully meet the higher education demands of students now and into the future.”

Many institutions of higher education across the nation today are operating in an increasingly challenging environment, as student debt rises to crisis levels, government funding shrinks, the cost of education continues to grow rapidly and colleges and universities can no longer continue to raise tuition to cover ballooning institutional expenses.

In “The Financially Sustainable University,” a white paper produced by management consulting firm Bain & Company earlier this year, the authors argue that higher education in the United States is at a tipping point.

“Universities simply cannot afford to increase costs in nonstrategic areas and take on more debt,” the report states.

Institutions have an opportunity to reshape and reinvent the industry, which is directly linked to the country’s economic prosperity, according to the report, which says it is vital that colleges and universities become more focused on creating value from their core.

“That will require having a clear strategy, streamlined operations, a strong financial foundation, trust and accountability, and a willingness to invest only in innovations that truly create value for the institution,” the report says.

Wilson College has been named a “Best Value” college in its region for 11 consecutive years by U.S. News & World Report’s “America’s Best Colleges” publication. The college has been ranked one of the best

regional colleges for undergraduate education for nine straight years by U.S. News.

In February, the Wilson College Board of Trustees agreed to a recommendation by Mistick to hold the line on tuition for 2012-13 at the same rate as the previous year, while approving a small increase in fees for room and board, and technology. The action resulted in a 1.2 percent increase in tuition and fees for full-time residential students.

The decision was the first in what is expected to be a series of bold steps needed to transform Wilson into a thriving institution.

“Change must come, and rather than wait until change is forced upon us, we are taking a proactive approach to bringing about constructive, transformational change in a way that is as open and inclusive as possible,” said Mistick.

Wilson College was founded in 1869 as a liberal arts college for women. When enrollment declined sharply during the 1970s, the college nearly closed in 1979, but after students and alumnae rallied, the decision was overturned. Since that time, Wilson added an adult degree program in 1982 and more recently, added its first two graduate degree programs, in education and the humanities.

Founded in 1869, Wilson College is a liberal arts college in Chambersburg, Pa., that is dedicated to the education of women and affiliated with the Presbyterian Church. Today, women and men can earn bachelor’s degrees in 30 areas and master’s degrees in education and the humanities. The college’s 2012-13 enrollment in the College for Women and the Adult Degree Programs is 695 and includes 17 students from 9 foreign countries. Visit for more information.

DATE: Oct. 17, 2012

CONTACT: Cathy Mentzer, Manager of Media Relations
Phone: 717-264-4141, Ext. 3178

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Last Updated: October 16, 2012