As Ohio Wesleyan administrators discuss several large projects to rebound from this year’s enrollment decline, the university’s Board of Trustees largely deferred to them on how to move forward at its full body meeting Friday.
The trustees took one vote after two days of discussing salient campus issues in committee meetings, but that vote was a concrete step toward funding some of those big projects, such as the Student Housing Master Plan. It set a $200 million goal for the university’s seven-year capital campaign.
About $50 million of that has been raised so far in the campaign’s three-year “quiet phase,” during which administrators are soliciting donations but not publicly advertising it, according to Board chairperson Thomas Tritton. He said that number includes the combined $16 million in donations funding the Merrick Hall renovation and the forthcoming Simpson-Querry Fitness Center.
The largest portion of that money would go toward financial aid to make OWU more accessible to prospective students, Tritton ’69 said. The rest would fund building projects such as Merrick and Simpson-Querry and student housing improvements, as well as academic goals such as hiring new faculty and supporting curricular initiatives such as Course Connections.
“It’s really student-oriented,” Tritton said.
What those student housing projects will look like, though, is still uncertain. OWU administrators have not yet told the Board what the Student Housing Master Plan, which has been in the works since 2011, should prioritize or set a timeline for its component projects.
The Board’s Student Affairs Committee wants to move forward “prudently but quickly” on student housing, committee chair Ed Haddock said. In his report, Haddock mentioned some results from a student housing survey that indicated students care as much about the facilities they live in later in their time at OWU as they do about where they live the first year.
The forward motion on the capital campaign comes at the same time as a smaller freshman class than last year (484 students versus 569) and as a 1.2-percent drop in the percentage of students staying at OWU after their first year, according to a Sept. 4 email from University President Rock Jones to the faculty. Those issues make this fiscal year “more of a challenge” than the last, which ended with a small surplus and with the endowment at an all-time high of $215 million, according to Finance Committee chair Jeff Benton’s report.
“We are at a time when we have challenges, but we have extraodinary momentum and strength to address those challenges,” Jones said in his report to the Board.