Western Michigan University to Close Its Punta Gorda, Fla. Location
February 12, 2019
Upon thoughtful consideration and deliberation, Western Michigan University’s (WMU) has decided to close its Punta Gorda location in Charlotte County, Fla., effective August 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.
WMU programs began operating in Punta Gorda in fall 2017 after more than a year and a half of research and market analysis. 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 enrollment of more than 200 students, that would then be sustained over a long period. It concluded that this is not achievable in the current market.
WMU Punta Gorda was conceived and led by the university’s Extended University Programs (EUP), the arm of the university 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, like aviation, that have provided programs there. No Michigan state dollars are used in these activities.
Ultimately, this decision is in the long-term best interest of WMU and its students as well as the effective use of its resources to advance its mission.