More financial aid, smaller student body will be among options explored amid enrollment decline, Loyola president says

With a more than 30 percent drop in new students projected this fall, Loyola University officials are hoping the numbers they’re looking at are simply an anomaly or, perhaps, may be reversed with more generous financial aid or other straightforward solutions.

But now faced with a hiring freeze and employee cutbacks to deal with an expected $9.5 million hole in the university’s budget, President Kevin Wildes, S.J., said it may be time to think more seriously about whether Loyola should be a smaller school.

“We’re being forced, if you will, to take a look at this and say, ‘What’s the right size for us?’ ” Wildes said.

The issue of the university’s size affects a range of issues from building use and construction to the number and makeup of the faculty and staff. Wildes said determining whether to try and sustain an undergraduate population of 3,255 for the long term will be a topic of significant discussion for administration working groups over the coming year.

Loyola has been preparing for bad news about next year’s enrollment since early May, when only 591 students put down enrollment deposits by the traditional deadline. Last year, 905 students had signed up with the school at that point.

The university had been aiming for about 875 first-year students, though projections released Wednesday suggest the school will likely only register 600 to 625.

In the short-term, the administration is contemplating a number of strategies to keep the books balanced. In addition to offering early retirement and severance packages to workers, officials are contemplating cutting back some 37.5-hour a week positions to 30 hours, turning full-year jobs into 10-month positions, scaling back benefits or taking a larger amount from the university’s endowment.

Wildes expressed hope that the school could bounce back but said it needs to be prepared for change.

“We’ve been using a model for undergraduates of say 875. Maybe that’s not the right model,” Wildes said. “I want us to dig down into it.”

As for this year’s numbers, the school doesn’t seem to be any less attractive to students sending out applications. More students applied to Loyola this year than ever before, Wildes said.

Financial factors may weigh heavily in the decision. For students living in on-campus housing, the century-old school costs nearly $49,000 a year.

“I think the sticker scares people when they come down,” Wildes said.

The cost of attending the school may be only part of the issue, however. When it comes to next year’s enrollment, Wildes suggested the lingering effects of the economic recession may have played a role and that impact may have been exacerbated by financial aid offers that were not as large as they should have been.

“I think this past year and for this class, I think we made aid offers that were too low,” Wildes said.

Wildes said he’s handled that issue internally, but declined to comment on whether he was referring to the resignation of Vice President of Enrollment Management Sal Liberto in early June. That resignation came weeks after the administration started to come to grips with the massive drop in new students who would be attending the school.

Need-based financial aid will be a priority for the school going forward and Wildes expressed hope that more generous packages could prove the key to a turnaround. Particularly when it comes to less wealthy families, such offers could be what it takes to bridge the gap between and application and an enrollment, he said.

“I think particularly if a family, let’s say they have serious financial needs, they’re going to think long and hard before they make that commitment,” Wildes said.