Wheaton plans layoffs; hikes cost to $51K

COLE MEMORIAL CHAPEL on Wheaton College’s Norton campus earlier this winter.
Posted 2/24/10

NORTON – Wheaton College will lay off employees, increase its cost to more than $51,000 annually and enroll more students to deal with the downturn in the economy, the school’s president announced this week.

Wheaton’s board of trustees voted last weekend to approve a five-year plan “that positions the college to sustain and enhance its academic strength and financial equilibrium,” Wheaton President Ronald Crutcher said in an e-mail to staff, students and alumni.

Wheaton plans to eliminate some staff positions after the spring semester ends on May 15, but the details are still being determined, Crutcher said. “It is not yet clear how many positions will be affected, although some will be among those that are currently vacant,” he said. Staff and faculty salaries will be frozen for a second year and benefits will be altered, as well.

The board voted to raise Wheaton’s comprehensive fee – which includes tuition, room and board and other charges – to $51,264 for the 2010-11 school year. That is up 3.7 percent from Wheaton’s current cost of $49,440 and an inflation-adjusted increase of 32 percent since 1999-2000, when the school’s comprehensive fee was $29,880.

“The decision to set the tuition, room and board rate is never undertaken lightly,” Crutcher said. “We appreciate the significant investment that this represents for students and families.” More investments will be made in financial aid, he added.

More students will be paying to attend Wheaton, too. The college plans to enroll about 30 more students in the 2012-13 academic year, an increase of 8 percent from the roughly 1,655 the school enrolls now.

The trustees also voted to spend about $42 million to fund the construction of a new science center. So far, Wheaton donors have contributed roughly $27 million to pay for the project. The college will borrow $15 million to cover the rest of the cost, Crutcher said. The building is scheduled to open in the fall of 2011.

Trustees also voted to change Wheaton’s endowment policy to “fully distribute up to 5 percent of endowment income each year” excluding funds that have fallen below the original value contributed, Cruthcer said.

The value of Wheaton’s endowment dropped 23 percent to $139.76 million in the fiscal year ended June 30, according to the National Association of College and University Business Officers.

“In many ways, we are at the beginning of a challenging new period in the college’s history,” Crutcher wrote. He said Wheaton’s staff and students must “work together to find new and more efficient ways” of running the college.

“I will not underestimate the difficulty of the work that lies ahead nor of the decisions that we must make,” Crutcher added. “However, I am confident in our ability to work collaboratively not only to achieve our objectives, but to position Wheaton for the future.”

Separately, the trustees voted to give an honorary degree to former U.S. Sen. Edward Brooke, R-Mass., at the school’s commencement ceremony in May. Brooke was the last Bay State Republican sent to the Senate before Massachusetts voters elected Scott Brown last month.

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