Effect of WU students leaving campus for summer on Waynesburg organizations

With graduation approaching, the borough of Waynesburg is preparing to lose a portion of its temporary population with Waynesburg University students heading home for the summer. The annual loss will take a toll on the borough in some respects but not in others.

The 2022 publications of the Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages and the Borough Economic Analysis say that 36,248 people call Greene County home. Of those, 3,922 live in the borough of Waynesburg.Waynesburg University admissions website says that while the school is in session, Waynesburg University students make up about 36% of the community population by adding roughly 1,400 undergraduate students to the count.

Some organizations within the borough depend on university students to stay fully operational, including one that is just a few blocks away.

One non-profit’s experience

 The Eva K. Bowlby Public Library utilizes Bonner Scholar and service learning volunteers from the university to not only keep shelves stocked with books but to keep important programs running.

“We try to recruit Bonner Scholars to work with our tutoring program,” Kathy McClure, executive director at the library said. “We like those children to have consistency and they usually can be a little bit more consistent than someone who is trying to fill 30 hours.”

On a yearly basis, McClure said that the library sees anywhere between 26-30 university volunteers helping with day-to-day operations and tasks. 

“We do have a couple of students who come in just for those tasks,” McClure said. “We can rely on them and it frees up the staff time to be able to do the things that students can’t do like paperwork, reporting, things like that.”

Community children who attend tutoring programs at the library sometimes attend year-round, so when student volunteers go home for the summer, programs like tutoring take a hit.

Without the student volunteers, the tutoring department at the library only has one full-time staff member. 

“There’s really no way to prepare for that. We just have to know that we’re going to have to restructure the tutoring through the summer. That we can have one-on-one type tutoring instead of after-school tutoring and try to utilize any students that might be remaining in the Waynesburg area that might be willing to come in through the summer,” McClure said. “And that’s really all that we can do.”

Tourism office perspective

When on campus, students, faculty and staff tend to stop into different small businesses in the surrounding area. 

But when students head home for the summer months, JoAnne Marshall, the director of Greene County Tourism, said that these organizations in Waynesburg Borough see the change as well.

“By having basically that population of over 1,000 of the students, staff and teachers, it does make a void when they do leave us in the summer,” Marshall said.

According to Marshall, the college population does impact certain small businesses in town, including restaurants.

“That influx, especially when you’re looking at food, does show an increase in traffic and they do depend on that,” Marshall said. “As for the retail: the retailers all love the influx of students.”

Marshall said that the student population has also brought in others to the Waynesburg shopping scene as well. 

“If parents come to pick the students up, there’s another gain in foot traffic or even car traffic coming this way,” Marshall said.

According to Marshall, local shops have been known to accommodate students’ needs and specific shopping purposes, including necessities, gifts and Christmas shopping.

Small businesses differ

While some small businesses depend on the students as customers, others depend on them as paid workers throughout the school year.

Hayley Sweeney, a senior at Waynesburg University, works at Fruition Bowls and Brews during the semester but will graduate and move away after school, leaving the job. 

As a worker, Sweeney has already seen how the business struggles to find workers when students leave for breaks.

“What I’ve seen since I’ve worked there, we’ve had three or four breaks maybe, and they struggle a lot with finding kids that can come work,” Sweeney said. “It’s mostly when the college kids leave that they struggle with that. I was talking to the manager, and she said that it was hard to find the high schoolers [to work], especially in the summertime.” 

Along with the loss of workers, the business also sees a loss of revenue. Sweeney estimated from her experience on the job that in a single day, roughly 60% of shoppers at Fruition are college students.

On the opposite end of High Street, 5 Kidz Kandy reported opposite findings.

“We don’t have a tremendous amount of foot traffic at all when it comes to college students,” Kristy Vliet, owner of 5 Kidz Kandy, said. “Years and years and years ago, we did, and it just seems that it’s tapered off. They don’t really venture much off of campus to come down here.”

Vliet said that students mostly stop in if they need to go shopping for a gift, or if the WIFI at the university has gone down. She attributed the drop in student shoppers to the increase in what is offered on the university campus.

“A lot of what we have like coffee, ice cream, lunches, milkshakes, that kind of thing, it’s all right there at the university,” Vliet said. “So, for them to venture another couple blocks out when everything that we have is so readily available to them right there, I think that’s why they don’t venture out as much.”

Vliet said that roughly five years ago, this was a different story.

“We’ve been open for nine years and for the first four or five years, we had a pretty steady clientele with the college kids where they would come down and get a milkshake or get something to eat,” Vliet said. “And then when they would go home for the summer, we wouldn’t have that traffic.”

Now, 5 Kidz Kandy tends to see a main lunch clientele from county workers.

Right down the road from 5 Kidz Kandy is another example of a business that does not rely on university clientele. 

Mickey’s Mens Store also does not see a lot of foot traffic from the campus community. According to owner Victoria Bruno, the store mainly serves blue-collar workers from coal mines and gas and oil companies. 

When the students do go home for the summer though, one thing does change for sure.

“In the summer, there’s more parking available,” Marshall said. “That is one extreme positive is there’s normally a lot of parking spots available for anyone that wants to frequent the downtown Waynesburg area.”

Marshall said that when the students head home, the change in atmosphere is hard to describe.

“It’s a little calmer, it’s a little quieter. It’s gorgeous. The parks are in full bloom, green, summer air. In a lot of ways, I see it as a blessing,” Marshall said. “But when the students come back say in the fall or after Christmas break in January or even after Spring break, we notice the difference. It’s nice to also see the town come alive and it feels like there’s a lot of activity.”