Christopher Wren Association raising prices amid fiscal concerns

Contact Reporterwwright@vagazette.com

Taking classes through the Christopher Wren Association will cost more beginning this fall.

Regular membership will increase from $100 to $135 per semester and associate membership will be $50, up from $45 in years past.

The Christopher Wren Association, started by the late Wayne Kernodle and his wife, Ruth, is an organization that offers continuing education opportunities to adults in the area. The association's board of directors, president, class hosts, class assistants and office support as well as instructors are all volunteers.

In a March letter from the association's board to its members, the board said research showed it charged far less for its services than similar groups in the area.

The Wren Association is considered a lifelong learning institution, and there are many like it around the country.

Each, according to association president Bill Riffer, is tied to a university; James Madison University and Old Dominion University, for example, have groups dedicated to adult education.

With the increase, they are still under the average prices they found in 27 other similar institutions.

"We have decided, after countless hours of rigorous debate, solid research, and painful expense cutting to a tuition rate increase to $135 for regular members and $50 for associate members which will go into effect for the fall 2017 term," said the letter. "These increases will restore our fiscal stability, preserve our modest endowment, provide a sufficient contingency reserve for unexpected operational expenses, restore in part our cash reserves, and hopefully put us in a position to renew our small grants to the college."

Regular membership includes the chance to take eight courses over the semester, plus admission to the Town & Gown lecture series and all other functions run through the association.

As an associate member, you can enroll in the lecture series and in other special events.

The Association will no longer grant scholarship money to students at the College of William and Mary. In the past, the association has also provided monetary support to William and Mary's law school, the Virginia Institute of Marine Science, the Muscarelle Museum, and more.

The number of Town & Gowns — a popular noon lecture series — is now six, down from eight.

Members will have to pay for their own parking passes at $12. These and other cuts will save the association roughly $59,500 per year.

Deciding where and what to cut took the better part of a year, according to Riffer.

"It was something I immediately knew we needed to do," Riffer said. He started his term as president in May 2016.

Two facets of the association budget comprise the bulk of the money it spends: Paying the wages of its five staff members, and the software the association uses to register people online. Riffer estimated that those two alone comprise more than 90 percent of the association's budget last year.

"Those were the two big things that caused me to reconsider how we were using our budget," Riffer said. "Those are really the the two big ones."

The association pulled more than $100,000 from its cash reserves to balance its fiscal budgets in in each of the past two years.

"No one has enjoyed this process but it is a fiscal necessity. We last raised tuition rates in 2013 and we temporarily lost some members," the letter reads. "We have factored an attrition rate into this budget, but it is our sincere hope that we will not lose a single member."

Wright can be reached by phone at 757-345-2343.

Want to learn more about the Wren Association?

Website: http://www.wm.edu/sites/cwa/

Email: ChrisWren@wm.edu

Phone: 757-221-1506

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