WHEELING, W.Va. (WTRF) — The Higher Learning Commission (HLC), an organization which accredits degree-granting colleges and universities, has placed Wheeling University on probation, but it will maintain accreditation.
The HLC made its decision on February 25, 2021, and its website shows the probation status remains in place as of today, March 8, 2021. You can view the view the full report here.
HLC took this action because it determined that the institution is out of compliance with HLC’s Criteria for Accreditation according to the their public disclosure letter. The HLC also says that while on probation, the institution remains accredited, and it has the opportunity to remedy the issues that led to the sanction.
What This Means for Students
The HLC says that “in most cases, other colleges and universities will continue to accept the institution’s credits in transfer or for admission to a higher degree program. All colleges and universities define their own transfer and admission policies. Students interested in pursuing a higher degree or transferring should contact the college or university they plan to attend so that they are knowledgeable about the admission and transfer policies for that college or university.”
In a letter to Wheeling University President, Ginny R. Favede, Barbara Gellman-Danley, President of the HLC, explained the HLC’s reasons for placing the school on probation:
“Summary of the Action: The Institution has been placed on Probation because it is out of
compliance with the Criteria for Accreditation…The Institution does not meet Core
Components (resources) and (strategic planning)”
Finances were a major concern addressed in the HLC’s letter to Favede:
• The Institution does not have sufficient fiscal resources to support its operations, as
evidenced by its declaration of financial exigency in the spring of 2019.
• Two critical planning documents, Wheeling’s “Five-Year Financial Sustainability Plan”
(October 18, 2019 and revised January 24, 2020) and “Journey Forward Together: A
Strategic Plan for Wheeling University 2020-2024” (September 6, 2020) both contain
exceedingly optimistic targets for critical indices of fiscal health, including enrollment
growth, retention, and discount rate.
For example, the Strategic Plan calls for the Institution to increase “Freshmen retention” from a historic baseline of 71% in fall 2020 to 85% by fall 2023. However, as previously noted this metric does not have a clear and widely understood definition within the Institution.
In another important example, the new plan indicates that the discount rate (for
undergraduates only) will be held at 67% beginning in fall 2020. However, the first
quarter FY 2021 (unaudited) budget information provided in the response to the
Institutional Actions Council (IAC) Hearing Report indicates a 68.9% rate. Wheeling’s
discount rate directly affects its net tuition revenue and is, therefore, a critical component
of the Institution’s attempts to achieve financial sustainability.
The Institution has relied heavily on the support of the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston
since its declaration of financial exigency in March 2019. The Diocese’s commitment of
$7 million over six years ($2.5 million this year) is what has enabled the Institution to
balance its budget and to achieve an estimated CFI of 1.4 for FY 2020, largely due to
booking $5 million in gifts receivable from the Diocese as assets. Utilizing such sources
of revenue to maintain operations is a financially unsustainable model, and there is no
evidence that additional fundraising or enrollment growth will be able to close future
Utilizing such sources of revenue to maintain operations is a financially unsustainable model, and there is no evidence that additional fundraising or enrollment growth will be able to close future budget gaps.
• Although Wheeling’s current FY 2021 budget is projected to be balanced by year’s end,
the Institution has a line of credit of $4.25 million that has a short payoff period, in
addition to $6 million it has borrowed from its endowment.”
In addition, the school’s enrollment goals were determined to be overly ambitious by the HLC and the 2020 Strategic Plan was identical in some aspects to the 2012 plan:
“Wheeling’s new Strategic Plan was completed shortly before the Institution’s September
2020 verification visit. This plan is very similar to its 2012 Strategic Plan, which
contained the same initiatives and identical planning measures with similar goals.
Both plans, however, suffer from the same overly ambitious enrollment-related targets,
including proposing to increase retention from 71% to 85% over the plan period and
increasing enrollment by at least 80%. Furthermore, Wheeling has not provided
convincing evidence that these goals are achievable or that if achieved, the goals would
result in financial sustainability.”
In response to the HLC accreditation with probation decision, Wheeling University released this statement:
“Wheeling University welcomes this important opportunity to improve as the University is an institution that embraces and meets its challenges. The University has already begun and will continue to respond effectively, making steady and significant improvements to its financial planning and assessment, while linking initiatives and operations to a solid strategic plan. These sustained efforts are necessary to fulfill the University’s commitment to its students and alumni. Wheeling will continue to move forward with on-going corrections and will gain strength from rectifying the mistakes of prior administrations. “
“We remain committed to excellence for our students, their families and our alumni. Our Catholic mission calls for us to reflect on our work and continuously seek ways to enhance our programs and service to others throughout the world,” stated President Ginny R. Favede.
“Setting our financial house in order and reassuring our students, our alumni, and the people of our region that Wheeling University will continue to be here for them, have been the top priorities of my administration. I am proud that my team has taken steps to put Wheeling on firmer footing, while continuing to develop new ways to improve the experience of our students, while serving the interests of our community,” Favede said.