Wheaton College announced on February 16 that it would close 25 non-academic staff positions and raise some student fees in the latest wave of efforts to reduce expenses to prevent a budget deficit in the coming decade. The announcement, emailed to faculty and staff on Thursday, Feb. 16, preceded a town hall in Barrows Auditorium on Friday afternoon, where faculty and staff asked the Senior Administrative Cabinet questions about the cuts, which had been submitted through Slido.
In both the email and the town hall meeting, President Philip Ryken clarified that the staff positions being cut are all either currently vacant or soon to be vacated by planned retirements. This is the second round of cuts for staff in recent years, after 20 staff were laid off in 2021 and 15 accepted financial compensation to leave voluntarily.
The choice of what non-academic expenses to downsize, including staff reductions, came from recommendations from the Strategic Budget Review — a committee of faculty and staff from across campus that has been preparing recommendations since last summer. The Board of Trustees approved the final recommendations on Feb. 18.
“The budget reductions have been spread fairly evenly across campus and do not result in the elimination of any legacy programs,” said Ryken in an email to the Record. “We do not anticipate that students will notice significant changes to their experience.”
Students did not receive the email about the staff cuts but instead got a separate message announcing an increase in certain student fees and a reduction in some operating budgets that will affect students. The student wellness fee, which currently costs $125, will be increased by $5 next year and will be up to $175 by 2025, according to the email. The student parking permit fee of $292 will also be raised starting next year, and the new price has not been announced.
The changes will also include a smaller operating budget for athletics to travel outside the Midwest to compete and less extra financial aid for non-Wheaton-sponsored study abroad programs.
In the email to students, Ryken and Vice President for Student Development Paul Chelsen reiterated the reasoning behind this year’s budget cuts.
“The college needs to prevent a projected budget gap between costs and expenses from developing to as much as 10% over the next five years,” they wrote. “This gap—created largely by reduced enrollment revenue and high inflation—would be too large to address by raising student tuition.”
Student tuition is increased by a small amount each year. According to Joseph Moore, director of marketing and communications for the college, the board of trustees approved an increase of 4%, slightly higher than last year’s increase of 3.5%. But Moore said this slightly higher increase is “very much in line with increases we are seeing at other institutions.” He also noted that next year, many students will have access to increased financial aid grants and loans.
This year’s freshman class of 504 students is down from last year’s, at 586. The pre-pandemic average was around 600. In an email to the Record, Ryken said that while it is too early to know next year’s freshman class size, the budget is planned for 500.
Tony Dawson, director of Auxiliary Services, reiterated that while all the position closings have been announced, the redesigning of work processes to allow for smaller teams is an ongoing effort. While the reductions in his department, which includes CPO, Public Safety and Bon Appétit among others, have been minimal this year due to a pre-pandemic wave of staff reductions, Dawson said he is anticipating helping other departments figure out how to redistribute work. In the process, he said, minimizing student impact is a high priority.
“One of our top considerations, maybe the top consideration, is the customer, which is you [the students],” he said. “It’s also internal customers, departments [who] support other departments. So as leadership works through this process, we’re going to have to think about, ‘What is the primary thing that we need to protect and preserve?’”
Dawson said it is too early to know what effects these process changes will have on students, but he added that there could be reductions in services that are “nice, but not essential.”
According to Ryken at the town hall, this is the last set of announcements from the Strategic Budget Review.