Western Michigan University to close its location in Punta Gorda

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Credit: www.wmich.edu

Western Michigan University announced Tuesday it’s set to close its Punta Gorda location.

According to the university in a statement:

“Upon thoughtful consideration and deliberation, Western Michigan University has decided to close its Punta Gorda location in Charlotte County, Florida, effective Aug. 31, 2019.

The location is in its second year of operation and currently enrolls two music therapy students and 38 aviation students. From the beginning, the College of Aviation, which is locally operated by 13 employees and four hourly flight instructors, has been the cornerstone of the location.

After more than a year and a half of research and market analysis, WMU programs began operating in Punta Gorda in fall 2017. From early on, the plans for the location were built on the expectation that new WMU aviation programs, combined with collaboration with local economic development partners and Florida Southwestern State College–FSW–, would attract new private student housing that would become a magnet for housing and retail development that is attractive to students. Those plans did not materialize.

Shifting higher education demographics and enrollment trends in the region are of concern to WMU. In addition, WMU’s aviation program enrollment has also been substantially less than anticipated in the first two years of operation.

The changing market forces and new information led WMU to update its planning assumptions and market projections. The University determined that getting to a net-positive balance sheet requires an immediate and subsequently sustained enrollment of more than 200 students. WMU officials have concluded that this is not achievable in the current market.

WMU-Punta Gorda was conceived and led by Extended University Programs, the arm of WMU responsible for extending its access mission and diversifying revenue. EUP is inherently entrepreneurial, with an eye toward net-positive revenue. Startup funds for WMU-Punta Gorda have come from EUP and the academic colleges, such as aviation, that have provided programs in that community. No Michigan state dollars are used in these activities.

Plans have already been developed to seamlessly transition the music therapy students back to the main campus in Kalamazoo, Michigan, at the conclusion of this spring semester. WMU has teach-out obligations with students who are within a year of graduation and will develop individualized teach-out plans in compliance with its accrediting body, the Higher Learning Commission. The University also will coordinate with Florida’s Commission for Independent Education.

With the remaining students, the University has more flexibility to create options that meet their needs and help them continue in their education at WMU or at another university. WMU is committed to advising all students and developing transition plans that keep students on track and help them attain their degrees while easing the impact of the closure on them.

No employees are expected to remain after the program closes later this fall. WMU will be guided by its personnel policies to manage the transitions of the 13 employees.

Ultimately, this decision to close WMU-Punta Gorda is in the long-term best interest of the University and its students, and it represents the effective use of resources to advance WMU’s mission.”

Statements from administrators:

“This decision does not come lightly. Enrollment projections and elements critical to the location’s success have not developed as anticipated. We take seriously our responsibility to deliver our core mission to serve Michigan, while also keeping an eye on financial stewardship. Given the changed landscape and our refined enrollment projections, I am confident we can best serve our students by fully focusing on the College of Aviation at its Battle Creek location.”

–Dr. Jennifer P. Bott, WMU provost and vice president for academic affairs

“My current focus is on our students, faculty and staff in Punta Gorda. A smooth transition is about details, and right now my top priority is managing those details to ease this change to the fullest extent possible.”

–Dave Powell, dean of the College of Aviation

“Florida Southwestern State College, the Punta Gorda Airport, the Economic Development Partnership and Charlotte County have been strong partners with WMU as we reached for success together. Southwest Florida should be proud to have these dedicated professionals advocating for their region.”

–Dr. Ed Martini, interim associate provost of Extended University Programs

“While WMU has shared this news of their closing with us, and we understand their reasons for closing the Punta Gorda location, Florida Southwestern State College remains committed to serving the students of Charlotte County.”

–Dr. Jeffery S. Allbritten, president of Florida Southwestern State College

For more information, contact Tony Proudfoot, WMU vice president of marketing and strategic communications, at (765) 716-4661 or tony.proudfoot@wmich.edu.

On March 16, 2017 The Western Michigan University’s Board of Trustees announced an economic development investment agreement with Charlotte County.

The agreement paved the way for improvements at Punta Gorda Airport designed to enhance WMU’s ability to deliver aviation flight training at the facility.

According to the initial release, up to $500,000 in improvements would be done by the county to an airport hangar complex WMU is leasing for the program. WMU trustees approved a $1-per-year lease.

The original agreement called for WMU to:

  • Establish and begin the flight training program at Punta Gorda Airport no later than January 2018.
  •  Invest no less than $2 million in building improvements and/or equipment and training prior to July 1, 2018, to support delivery of a bachelor’s degree in aviation flight training.
  • Continuously operate the program at Punta Gorda Airport for no less than five years or refund $100,000 to Charlotte County for every year less than that five-year period the program operates.
  • Appropriately staff the program and within five years maintain an average student enrollment of 150 students per academic year with a provision for significant market disruption.

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