Investigative Editor Zaakirah Mujid
Editor-in-Chief Logan Hanson
The First in an Occasional Series on the University’s Struggles and Successes with Finances
Benedictine University’s enrollment has dropped nearly 20% from Fall 2014 to Fall 2017 for traditional undergrads at the Lisle campus, according to a study by the Candor.
There were also 276 fewer traditional undergrads in Lisle from Fall 2016 to Fall 2017, according to a memo sent March, 2018 from the office of Benedictine President Michael Brophy.
Tuition in the 2017-2018 academic year was $32,400, according to the 2017-2018 BenU undergraduate catalog. If the “missing” 276 students paid full tuition – many students don’t – the difference would be over $8.9 million.
Declining enrollments are not unique to BenU, with many universities facing similar problem.
“In Illinois we are working against adverse demographics and out-of-state student export patterns that make this a very challenging time for faith-based institutions such as Benedictine,” stated Brophy.
Benedictine University enrollment numbers are down from 2014-2017 and are down significantly for 2017-2018 school year despite estimations that the University would bring in higher enrollment numbers this year, according to a December, 2017 memo sent to the Benedictine Community from BenU Administrators. Freshmen enrollment had the greatest effect on these numbers. Fall 2017 enrollment for Lisle Freshman students is down more than 35% from the 2017 enrollment goal, according to the memo, which led to a reduction in the overall undergraduate enrollment by more than 10%.
“The leading contributor to the University’s 2017-2018 budget shortfall is due to an enrollment decline at both the Lisle and Springfield campuses,” stated Brophy.
“With the fiscal year coming to an end on May 31, the administration and the board of trustees are addressing the remaining deficit [for 2017-2018 fiscal year] through fundraising and cost containment,” said Miroslava Mejia Krug, Vice President for Administration and Finance and Chief Financial Officer.
“In addition to the recent expense reductions, we reduced administrative expenses by more than $6 million during the past 15 months to strengthen our financial position,” said Krug.
More immediate strategies have also been discussed to head off future budget problems. Brophy went over the development process of the 2018-2019 budget in the March memo. For the University to reach a balanced budget in 2018-2019 the University must consider every potential expense reduction in the next few months.
The University has approved a number of initial expense reductions including the elimination of tuition remission benefit for third-party contractors (non-University employees), the reduction of staff associated with the Springfield campus property sale, a significant reduction to the adjunct instruction expenses and other measures.
“The salary of hiring an adjunct will not change, just the number of adjuncts hired. The reduction in the number of adjuncts is a result of the work of the Task Force on Prioritization of Programs and Services undertaken this past year,” said James Payne, Provost and Executive Vice President for Academic Affairs, Office of the Academic Affairs.
Brophy also recognized in the March memo three significant investments made by the University in the past years: the establishment of the Mesa campus, the commitment to a multiyear faculty hiring plan and the plan for the Lisle campus to transition to Division II athletics.
“Each of these commitments were initiated to generate increased enrollment and revenue,” stated Brophy.
A major strategy to reverse the enrollment decline is the University’s decision to transition athletics from Division III to Division II, according to a January, 2018 memo from President Brophy.
“This reclassification advancement is one of several strategies to distinguish the University as a first-choice, residential, Catholic, liberal arts school in the Midwest. It’s an advantage that Benedictine is able to grow its athletic program using its existing facilities and teams. The desired designation also opens the door to new student recruitment markets in Midwest metro areas,” stated Brophy.
The memo also discussed how the University made the decision and how it will help keep student-athletes at Benedictine.
“This assessment provided a thorough study of the University’s ability to meet the requirements of Division II membership and demonstrated that the change would serve the University’s mission and its future goals. The committee’s comprehensive study was examined through a diligent process, and the recommendation to pursue Division II membership was approved by the Board of Trustees in December,” stated Brophy.
“Historically, Benedictine University student-athletes remain in school and graduate more often than their non-athlete peers. Stricter NCAA Division II admission guidelines and progress-toward-degree rules are likely to further increase the University’s retention and graduation rates,” stated Brophy.
Another of the main goals is the implementation of the BenU 2020 plan which seeks to increase overall enrollment by 20% compared to the 2015 records which would be over 3,000 students enrolled, according to the BenU 2020 plan posted on the Benedictine website.
“Our Benedictine University 2020 Strategic Plan provided guidance for a stable financial future. The University is currently implementing student enrollment and retention strategies that increase the University’s revenue. As we evaluate opportunities for expense reductions, protecting our students’ academic experience remains our priority,” stated Brophy.
The March memo concluded with President Brophy urging the Benedictine community to stay positive through the challenges and commit to excellent service to promote the college experience for students.
“By providing exceptional service to our current students and by promoting the Benedictine experience, we can all play a part in retaining our students and encouraging new enrollments,” stated Brophy, “I believe that we will work our way through this challenge in a manner that future generations will remember with pride.”
Investigative Writer Elana Garay contributed to this article.