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Wheeling University leaders predicting turnaround

WHEELING, W.Va. — Leaders at Wheeling University say they’ve made a significant comeback in the last 60 days.

David Hendrickson

Board of Trustees Chairman David Hendrickson reminded the state Higher Education Policy Commission at a meeting last week that he told them in April he would be back before them this month with either a teach out plan to close the school or a plan to move forward.

“We have a plan to move forward,” Hendrickson said Friday.

Wheeling University has used money from an endowment fund to reduce its long-term debt by more than $7 million. The short-term debt, accounts payable, will all be within 30 days by August and the coming fall’s enrollment will be close to last year’s overall numbers, Hendrickson said.

“These folks at Wheeling University stepped up to make sure the school (stays open) and you don’t see that very often,” Hendrickson said. “The campus is on fire right now and everybody is really excited about the fall. In March, I wasn’t for sure they should be so excited but now I feel very confident about next year. I think we’ll do well.”

The school wasn’t paying its bills just a few months ago and was in trouble with the U.S. Department of Education for not submitting an annual financial audit on time. The board of trustees fired school president Ginny Favede in April and appointed Dianna Vargo as chief operations officer.

Mike Farrell

Hendrickson told the HEPC the school now has money in the bank with a projection of 620 undergrad students in the fall and 200 additional students taking graduate classes.

HEPC longtime member, vice chair, Mike Farrell told Hendrickson he was pleased with the progress but also wanted more information on the school’s finances.

“I personally would like to see more detail of the financial side,” Farrell said. “We just went through the AB (Alderson-Broaddus) situation and got lots of representations that ultimately didn’t turn out to be verifiable.”

State Higher Education Chancellor Dr. Sarah Armstrong Tucker said she can understand while some commission members may be cautiously optimistic of Wheeling’s turnaround.

“You’re hearing them (HEPC members) ask those questions that they are assured that it is accurate,” Tucker told MetroNews before adding, “We have no reason to believe that the folks at Wheeling are doing anything but being totally and completely transparent with us.”

Dr. Sarah Armstrong Tucker

Wheeling University remains under the Wheeling-Charleston Catholic Diocese from which it has gotten significant financial help in the past but Hendrickson told the HEPC Bishop Mark Brennan told the school it needs to figure out the current situation.

“We have a good relationship with him but he’s made it clear he wants us to run independent of the Diocese,” Hendrickson said. “We have a line of credit that the Diocese is on the hook for of about $6 million but we intend to pay that down.”

Wheeling University was called Wheeling Jesuit University for years. It had a major cutback in 2019 when it reduced its academic programs from 30 to 11. The school was put on probation in 2021 by the Higher Learning Commission because it didn’t have significant resources to support the operation.

Hendrickson said things are different now. He said the campus stepped up when it realized closing was a reality.

“I’m not going to sugarcoat it–we we’re scrambling,” Hendrickson told the HEPC. “It was hands-on-deck, if this school was going to be here in the fall everybody has to pitch in and we’ve got to get to work. A lot of people have gone over and above the call of duty to make sure this thing happens.”

Wheeling University knows it can’t stay the same and survive, Hendrickson said.

“We’ve got to change our ways. We got to be tight with our budget. We got to make sure we live within our means and we’ve got to make sure we educate kids and give them a quality education,” Hendrickson said.

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