CELINA — A group of community leaders are trying to shield Wright State University’s sole branch campus from trouble facing the main campus.
As Wright State’s main campus has been plagued by scandal, financial issues and legal problems, the Lake Campus has remained a bright spot for the university.
Jared Ebbing and others in the Celina area, about 80 miles north of Dayton, are hoping to keep the Lake Campus on that positive trajectory. Ebbing, Mercer County’s community economic development director, is one of several area leaders seeking to keep any revenue generated by the branch on its campus instead of it flowing into the university’s general fund.
“We are part of Wright State, but at the same time you don’t want to have their difficulties,” Ebbing said. “It’s our impression that a fair amount of money has gone down from this campus to the Dayton campus.”
The Lake Campus operates on its own budget and is funded through its own revenue streams, which are also separate from the main campus, former dean Jay Albayyari said in 2017.
The Lake Campus lost $226,000 in fiscal year 2018, which ended June 30, 2018 and is the most recent year for which data is available, said spokesman Seth Bauguess. WSU estimates it will cost more than $11.4 million to run the branch this year, according to a fiscal year 2020 budget proposal.
The Lake Campus is considered one of the university’s 10 colleges or schools and functions like “any other academic department” at the university, Bauguess said via email.
“Just like other colleges at the university, Lake Campus’ revenue generated by their students is shared with the university’s general fund to support other colleges and units across Wright State,” Walt Branson, WSU chief business officer said in a prepared statement. “This is a common practice in higher education.”
Ebbing said he and others have reached out to state legislators and asked to meet with Randy Gardner, chancellor of the Ohio Department of Higher Education about their concerns.
A spokesperson for state Rep. Susan Manchester, R-Lakeview, said she was unavailable to comment and state Sen. Matt Huffman’s office did not return a call for comment Tuesday. The Celina campus is in their legislative districts.
The chancellor’s office was recently contacted by members of the Lake Campus community to meet on “education and workforce issues,” said Jeff Robinson, spokesman for ODHE.
“We have indicated that we’re always interested in listening to ways in which we can strengthen higher education and workforce development in Ohio,” Robinson said via email.
‘A source of frustration’
People at the Lake Campus started getting frustrated a few years ago as Wright State’s financial issues became public, said Bill Montgomery, the only member of the board of trustees from Celina.
Wright State is in the midst of a financial recovery after years of overspending drained the university’s reserve fund to $31 million in fiscal year 2017. Reserves are now at more than $60 million, due in part to Wright State having reduced spending by around $53 million in fiscal year 2018.
“It has been a source of frustration,” Montgomery said. “I have shared that at the board level and I have shared it with the administration over the past couple of years.”
Despite being significantly smaller than the main campus, Montgomery said the Lake Campus is “arguably the most successful piece of Wright State right now.” Around 1,244 total students attended classes at Wright State’s branch last fall as opposed to more than 14,300 in Greene County, state records show.
Although he has heard local talk about how the Lake Campus could seek complete independence from Wright State, Montgomery said it hasn’t been given any “serious thought.”
“I think it’s loose talk,” Montgomery said. “It’s maybe done more in frustration.”
Ebbing is a member of the Western Ohio Educational Foundation board, a group that runs a scholarship program and was involved in the creation of the Lake Campus.
Auglaize, Darke, Mercer, and Van Wert counties organized the WOEF board in 1962 which subsequently established a college that at first enrolled 285 students. In 1969, the board voted to become fully affiliated with Wright State as its only branch campus, according to the university.
Fight at top
Concerns about safeguarding the branch from Wright State’s main campus bubbled up again recently after the Dayton Daily News revealed that Albayyari was told to resign by WSU President Cheryl Schrader. Albayyari was known to have “put up a fight” on keeping revenue generated by the Lake Campus in Celina, Ebbing said.
When asking for Albayyari’s resignation, Schrader cited “serious concerns” regarding the dean’s “interactions with Lake Campus personnel” and the “climate” created by Albayyari’s “management style,” according to a letter obtained by this news organization through a public records request. Albayyari said Schrader’s accusations were false.
Around 40 Lake Campus employees sent a letter to Schrader and provost Susan Edwards voicing support for Albayyari. The letter cited achievements that allowed the campus to flourish throughout the past four years under Albayyari.
“His leadership and management style have led to growth and prosperity the likes of which the campus has never seen,” the letter of support stated.
Enrollment at the Lake Campus has increased every year since 2014, even as the total number of students attending WSU’s main campus has steadily declined since 2015, data shows. This fall, the Lake Campus’ enrollment is expected to climb another 3.4% while the main campus is projected to decrease by 16.8%, according to the FY 2020 budget proposal presented to trustees.
Schrader has gone so far as to say the Lake Campus has been a “gem” for WSU. It’s that kind of success that Ebbing said the community wants to preserve and continue in the years ahead.
The Lake Campus, Ebbing said, is important to the Celina region and the businesses and people that call the area home. They just want to have more of a say in what the branch campus’ future looks like, Ebbing said.
“Everybody has the same concerns. What happens a year from now or two years from now?” Ebbing said. “We’ve just asked for more input, more partnership and more relevancy.”