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Charting a path forward together

Advancing our mission and ensuring financial sustainability

The University has launched the Path Forward, an important, broad-based planning process to examine a broad range of options to help the University adapt to significant, long-term demographic and enrollment trends in the higher education landscape while adhering to UD’s identity, mission, and values.

The message below from President Eric F. Spina announcing the initiative was sent to the campus community on Jan. 23, 2020.

Update: Feb. 13, 2020

Timeless Mission, Innovative Spirit

The University of Dayton's Catholic and Marianist identity, mission, and values are strong and alive, thanks to the diligence and commitment of so many in our campus community.  The quality of the faculty and staff is extraordinary, and their hard work, creative energies, and innovative spirit over generations have enabled UD to become stronger, deepening our impact in learning, research and discovery, and engagement.  The care and concern for UD by our alumni, friends, and donors are at an all-time high and have led to wider recognition of the excellence of the University and remarkable philanthropic investments in our increasingly diverse people, programs, and physical plant.  And we recognize, in the midst of this momentum, that our students remain our greatest gift and asset, as they inspire us every day with their commitment to holistic learning experiences that prepare them to lead and serve throughout the world. Indeed, they are community builders who will change the world.  In sum, we have many reasons to be hopeful and optimistic about the future of our University.

Rapidly Changing Landscape of Higher Education

With this underlying foundation of mission, institutional strength, and optimism, though, we must recognize that higher education is in the midst of tectonic shifts.  The much more challenging “new normal” for American higher education, anticipated since even before the 2008 Great Recession, is truly upon us, fueled by a number of factors, including:

  • Changing Demographics: Two important national demographic trends are reshaping higher education. First is a substantial and long-term decrease in the number of 18-year-olds in the U.S., with declines in nearly every state nationally for the next decade.  Second, college-age populations that are traditionally under-represented at predominantly white institutions will continue to increase, providing opportunities to colleges and universities that are appropriately positioned.
  • Greater Price Sensitivity:  Price is generally the top factor in a prospective student's decision between their final candidate schools.  Sticker price also affects prospective students’ initial willingness to considering applying to a university. To be competitive, nearly all universities have dramatically increased scholarships and financial aid while decreasing or capping tuition. To put this in perspective, our current annual effective published tuition increase is about 0.5%, in comparison to between 6% and 12% annually from 1975-2014.
  • Steep International Enrollment Decline: A complex global environment is deterring many international students from studying in the U.S. and making the competition for those who do come here intense. This competitive landscape has significantly reduced UD’s enrollment of international students.
  • Slower Growth in Online Programs: An increasing number of high-quality colleges and universities are offering online degree programs, particularly at the graduate level, and while the total enrollment in online master’s programs nationally continues to climb, the competition among schools is leading to slower growth and less net revenue than forecasted. 
  • Lack of Public Confidence: The public perception of American higher education has markedly declined, due largely to tuition increases much higher than the rate of inflation over decades, a number of highly visible scandals, ballooning student debt that has become a lightning rod topic in the media and among politicians and a real burden for many families, and some graduates’ job prospects upon graduation.  And while the actual added financial value of a college degree is demonstrably strong (well in excess of $1 million in earnings over a lifetime), the increasing lack of confidence in higher education is creating real political challenges at the state and national levels with negative consequences for universities.
  • Skills Gap: As the nature of work has changed, emerging job requirements for the 21st century economy too often are seen as different from what universities can (or are willing to) provide, ranging from non-credit education and training to industry-based skill certificates.

Local Impact for UD

The impact on UD of some of these environmental factors is exacerbated by our location, our history, and even our educational mission and values.  For example, the demographic downturn is considerably more severe in the Midwest, with percentage declines that range from the low teens to more than 20% in several states that comprise our primary enrollment markets. Our historical lack of emphasis on fundraising leaves us with a modest endowment (for our age, size, and the affinity of our alumni) that provides very little structural support for our financial aid and leaves us heavily reliant on undergraduate tuition revenue.  And, finally, we place great value on enrolling a student body that is of high academic quality and highly diverse, particularly with respect to socio-economic level and race/ethnicity. That philosophy, driven by our mission, increases the pressure to remain affordable and accessible to all for whom UD can make a real difference. As a result, the annual effective tuition increment will remain very close to zero for the foreseeable future, precluding an automatic net revenue boost each year.

A Forward-Looking Strategy

Inspired by Blessed William Joseph Chaminade, we must read these signs of the times—and adapt and change to meet the critical educational needs of the communities we serve.  We must adapt and change our strategy to reflect the very different external environment in which we operate while remaining true to our identity, mission, and values. We must adapt and change our organizational structure and approach to be more nimble and agile.  We must adapt and change the alignment of our budget, and particularly our expenses, with the external reality and our evolving strategy. And we will be able to do all this — and shape UD's future—from a position of relative strength. Our strategy to grow additional revenue streams is showing positive results, thanks to the hard work of the campus community.  The increasing enrollment of transfer, UD-Sinclair Academy, international, and military veteran students is allowing us to begin to reduce our reliance on the declining population of high school seniors. We're seeing growing headcounts and credit hours among international and online graduate students. However, in part as a result of the aforementioned external forces, the growth in revenue from these new initiatives is slower than initial projections.  It is clear, therefore, that we have important work in front of us to ensure that our approaches are responsive to external demand and to make appropriate structural and budgetary changes to guarantee the long-term financial sustainability of the University. This will require a longer-term perspective than the short-term financial stewardship measures we took in the fall.

As part of developing a path forward, Provost Paul Benson, Executive Vice President Andy Horner, and I have been meeting with each of the academic and non-academic units to engage faculty and staff in an important discussion about: 

  • the relevance and impact of the dominant external forces and factors;
  • essential elements of the University’s financial model; and 
  • the University’s overarching strategy.  

Achieving a common understanding of our challenges and the external forces we face is critical if we are to work together to make key recommendations and decisions about central issues of importance to our future.  These sessions and the ensuing discussions have been very helpful to us. Attendees have expressed appreciation about the content of the presentations and the level of transparency.  These sessions will extend into the month of February, and all faculty and staff are encouraged to attend. 

Next Steps

While not everyone has yet had the opportunity to engage in one of these sessions, it is imperative that we move to the next steps of this process with the start of the new semester.  The work of the Financial Stewardship Task Force last summer was intended to develop a rapid response to some unexpected revenue softness that emerged last spring.  As you know, we targeted a minimum of $10 million less spending compared to the original fiscal 2020 budget (still reflecting an overall increase in spending from FY19 to FY20); while that effort is generally on track, we are now establishing a steering committee and a set of working groups to go beyond the work of the Financial Stewardship Task Force in a way that is more fully inclusive of faculty representation and expertise and more focused on longer-term structural issues. 

Our strategy moving forward cannot be about doing more with less or the same with less; rather, it should be about sharpening our priorities and focus, which could include doing less in some instances or becoming smaller in some areas. This collaborative effort will require us to identify our highest priorities and ultimately make some hard decisions.  As a result, it must begin and end with a focus on our identity, mission, and values, including the centrality of our students and their experiences to all that we do as a University.

We have established a steering committee and several working groups and outlined their scope and charges here.  In the spirit of shared governance and recognizing the degree to which the faculty and staff shape the student experience, we feel it is important to include the community integrally in these committees, even having faculty as co-chairs in some instances.  As such, we consulted with the Executive Committee of the Academic Senate. ECAS is supportive of our approach, and their advice and suggestions have helped us constitute the various groups. The steering committee will tackle a wide range of budgetary scenarios to control and reduce costs in light of the growing external challenges. The decisions about what levers to pull and directions to pursue have NOT BEEN MADE, and will not be made without considerable work by the campus community.  While some adjustments need to be made as early as the spring and summer, we have the time and space to think together about the most significant, longest-term decisions.  

It is important to note that the need to reduce total expenses does not imply that new investments will not be made.  Indeed, we must be prepared to invest new or reallocated funds into mission-critical areas (e.g., factors that affect student wellbeing and success), long-term plays that offer the promise of good return (such as fundraising), and opportunities for mission-aligned academic or non-academic revenue growth that can mitigate some of the expense reductions.  We must also find ways to invest in our people and their development to support our identity and mission. This exercise also affords the opportunity to re-examine some of the recommendations adopted after the Financial Stewardship Task Force finished its work to determine if other, lower-priority, alternatives are available for reduced funding in place of some of the initial cuts. 

Guiding Philosophy

As we begin this work, then, I make four important points:

  • As a Catholic and Marianist university, our values are paramount and will be a primary guide as we shape our future. We must not waver from our commitment to our mission and identity.
  • Through the hard work of the University community, we have been financially healthy thanks to continuous innovation over many years. We have weathered previous challenges by making small adjustments in our operations. Today, we face a more serious challenge from the external forces that are reshaping American higher education and that are directly impacting UD. While innovation and agility will remain paramount, more significant changes, including structural ones, are necessary.
  • While a remarkable 40% of private universities and colleges in the United States are deficit spending (i.e., spending more than they are taking in, an unsustainable position), the University of Dayton is not, and we are seen as—and truly are—a financially stable university.  Thus, this initiative is not crisis-driven. It is a serious exercise that will require our best, and we will need to approach it with urgency to maintain our success.  Importantly, we are doing this while we still have control of our own destiny. Too many colleges and universities have waited too long with their operating margins deteriorating to the point that they have lost their ability to control their own futures.  We cannot allow ourselves to be in this position.
  • We will only be successful in setting our future course if we work together.  Yes, as president I will make the final decisions on key matters; but it is the work that will be done in the steering committee and the working groups—and that will be informed by conversations across campus that will include faculty and both exempt and nonexempt staff—that will guide those decisions. Our most important strength is our community, and the expertise, active engagement, and buy-in of our community are essential and will be valued during this process.

Communication

The steering committee and working groups will begin their tasks immediately.  We will work with the President’s Council and the Executive Committee of the Academic Senate to develop regular communication about developments and ensure that opportunities are created for community discussion throughout this process. There is no single deadline by which decisions will be made. Rather, this will be an ongoing process in which we will make decisions when we believe it is appropriate to make them, working hard to ensure advance communication in addition to the consultation built into the process.  The first opportunity for full-community engagement will be a combined faculty and staff meeting on Feb. 7 in which the fully updated financial dashboard will be presented as has been done each winter. 

Thanks in advance for your thoughtful engagement in this process. Just as we educate students for adaptation and change, we’re asked to heed this same call today from our Marianist founders. Thank you for your commitment, dedication, and faith during this journey.

With God’s grace,
Eric F. Spina, president

CONTACT

Office of the President

St. Mary's Hall
300 College Park
Dayton, Ohio 45469 - 1624
937-229-4122