By now, I trust you’ve heard the good news from our Commit To Witt Day of Giving. With the help of so many, we made history, concluding our 176th year by raising more than $560,000 – a record amount – with the average gift size increasing and donations from alumni in all 50 states.
That big day has come amid other big developments to secure our future, and I want to outline those developments – and the work still to be done.
First and foremost, we have launched the public portion of our $100-million comprehensive campaign, our first such fundraising campaign in 20 years and the largest public campaign in Wittenberg history. As we have said, Having Light: The Campaign for Wittenberg University is about supporting all that defines us: the people, who inquire, create, inspire, and compete here; the place, where we come together as a community and welcome others to learn and grow; and the present, when the next generation of Wittenberg graduates learns to pass on its light.
Already, we have raised $76 million. I encourage everyone to learn more about our campaign here – and to read the inspiring words of just a few of our alumni from across the decades who are passing on their light. We also thank the generous donors who have gotten us this far. We now need support from all corners of our Tiger Nation as we continue to work on meeting an ambitious goal to ensure that the Wittenberg torch, which has shone brightly since 1845, remains lit for generations to come.
We also have made dramatic progress with the debt payments we face and that threaten so many colleges and universities across the nation.
As of a few weeks ago, we have paid off $23.79 million in loans taken out in 2018 to renovate our Health, Wellness, and Athletics (HWA) Complex. And we have in place funding to make the monthly payments on the remaining $3 million owed for the HWA. The first major renovation of Wittenberg’s athletics facilities since 1982, the HWA is an enormous asset to our University and community, our 25 NCAA Division III athletic teams, and the exercise science and sport management programs. Since its official dedication during Homecoming 2019, the facility has generated revenue via partnerships with local organizations, businesses, and area schools. With additional support, we can promote the facility to more potential partners and student-athletes.
We accomplished eliminating this debt through a combination of paid pledges to the HWA project, repositioning previous gifts, and raising new money.
We also know that, while retiring this large amount of debt and saving millions of dollars in interest, represents a huge, positive step forward, much remains to be done to further improve our operating results and to restructure and reduce our long-term liabilities. That work continues.
On the academic front, through the tireless efforts of our faculty, we will launch our Connections General Education Curriculum starting in fall 2021. This rethinking of a curriculum adopted in 1995 places a premium on experiential learning, providing opportunities for students to gain a solid academic foundation in multiple disciplines and then connect their classroom knowledge with practical situations, testing new skills in the wider world. Preparing students for life after Wittenberg is central to our mission. It is work we are called to do.
Our student enrollment efforts – while challenged by the COVID-19 pandemic, as has happened at every college and university – also have been showing strong signs of improvement. We have more applications and more admitted students, and our financial aid awards were in the hands of prospective students and families earlier than in past years. We believe the fall 2021 cohort will increase by 10% to 15% – on top of a 10% gain for 2020 over 2019.
To better tell our story, we have expanded our relationship with Simpson Scarborough, a leading higher education marketing firm, to develop a three-year strategic marketing plan. We are also broadening our work with Laux Creative to produce even more video stories, and our recent work with E&A Co. has led to new and exciting campaign and admission materials.
Finally, we have done all this amid the pandemic – a public health crisis unlike anything any of us has faced. We’re proud to have had all our students on campus for in-person instruction throughout this academic year. I believe this showed Wittenberg at our best – taking on an unprecedented challenge, practicing these new concepts of social distancing and wearing masks, and overcoming our shared situation, together.
The pandemic is not over, and our measured approach to it continues. But we so look forward to May 15th and our planned in-person Commencement.
As we enter our 177th year, we have met many goals and accomplished much. We also know that there is even more that remains to be done.
So, I’ll leave the final thought to one of our alumni, who responded to our call to describe Wittenberg for our comprehensive campaign: “It’s a place that’s going to push you to realize that you are capable of more than you think you are.”
Thank you for making Wittenberg University that special place. A video communication will be sent to our alumni and friends soon.
Michael L. Frandsen, Ph.D.