Enrollment dip hurts ULV budget

Aryn Plax
Editor in Chief

The University of La Verne has reached its “2020 Strategic Vision” fundraising goal of a $100 million endowment.

But fundraising efforts have not offset the financial problems caused by the sudden dip in enrollments this academic year at the tuition dependent University.

These issues were among those discussed by faculty and administrators at the first monthly Friday Focus event last week, headed by University President Devorah Lieberman and open to all University employees.

More than 50 attended the talk in the Campus Center Ballroom.

One of the goals under the 2020 Strategic Vision was to reach a $100 million endowment by 2020. While that goal has been met, the University has not finished its goal of raising $125 million as part of the Comprehensive Campaign, said Shannon Capaldi, administrator to the University Board of Trustees.

So far, it has raised $79 million. The money from the Comprehensive Campaign would pay for the new health and science academic building – a high priority for faculty.

The funds would also go to student scholarships and the hiring of more faculty chairs, said Provost Jonathan Reed.

Some faculty who spoke up at the Friday event said these needed additions can’t come too soon.

“When we look at what has been constructed in the strategic plan, the faculty had asked all along ‘how is it that the new building for science, administration and health didn’t get constructed (yet)?’” Professor of Humanities Al Clark said. “Whereas (the new dorm) and the parking structure – they were all constructed; but the thing that was left out was the faculty request.”

Clark said that the prioritization of other structures over the health and science  academic building reflected a failure to take into account faculty input. His opinion was shared by other professors, such as Jay Jones, professor of biology, who was also at the Friday meeting.

“We are in a period of economic turmoil, sociological turmoil, governmental turmoil, and so forth,” Jones said. “When we are planning strategy, we have to look into the future, and at all of these externalities. How do they affect this institution?”

Jones said that the 2020 strategic vision was formed based on recent data, without regard to the future the University faces.

“What’s yet to be achieved under the 2020 strategic vision is that we want 50 percent undergraduate residential students,” Capaldi said. “We’re still working on that, and we’re working towards a health and science academic building.”

An increase in residential students translates to an increase in revenue, Provost Jonathan Reed said in a Monday interview.

The new dormitory, projected to be completed by August, will house approximately 400 students – 175 more students than were housed in Stu-Han and Brandt combined, Reed said.

Students staying in the new residence hall this fall will be charged a per-semester rate of $4,140 for a single room, $3,805 for a double, and $3,240 for a triple.

The dormitory was another 2020 strategic vision goal. Other goals included construction of the parking structure, the Ludwick Center for Spirituality, Cultural Understanding, and Community Engagement, and the Wellness-Health Center. The parking structure was completed at the cost of $16 million, said Avo Kechichian, chief financial officer. Brandt will be repurposed and renovated into the Ludwick Center at a projected cost of approximately $15 million, and Davenport Dining Hall will be turned into a Wellness-Health center. Both projects are projected to be complete in 2019.

The health and science academic building, which Reed said will be the most expensive structure to build, will be the last to be constructed – despite many faculty’s belief that it should have been one of the first.

Construction of the dormitory began after the completion of the parking lot. The revenue generated from students paying for housing in the new residential hall will go toward the construction of the other structures in the 2020 strategic plan, Reed said.

Reed attributed much of the turmoil Jones mentioned to the “Trump effect,” which many believe is responsible for the nationwide drop in enrollment of international students into American universities.

Nearly 40 percent of colleges are seeing a drop in international student enrollment due to student concerns about visas and a potentially hostile social climate toward foreign students, according to a March 2017 article in InsideHigherEd.

This phenomenon, coupled with domestic students being increasingly priced out of higher education, declining retention rates at ULV, and this University having lost its competitive edge as one of a few providers of higher education among adult learners, has contributed to the current struggle in generating tuition-based revenue.

Getting more tuition-based revenue means finding a new competitive edge, which means finding a solid demographic to serve as the student base, Reed said.

Decreasing international student enrollment means losing out on students who pay almost the full price of tuition. Most domestic students rely on Cal Grants and Pell Grants, along with the University’s substantially discounted tuition rate. The University has sought to keep tuition relatively low, compared to other private universities. This is achieved through providing financial aid and scholarships.

Reed said he hopes to address those conflicting needs of the University – increased revenue and accessibility to students with financial need – by making the University more endowment-driven.

“Think of it in these terms: If, right now, we’re 99 percent dependent on revenue from students, by going more endowment, maybe we’ll (eventually) only be 96 or 94 percent,” Reed said. “We’re still going to be overwhelmingly dependent on student revenue, but we can move the needle just a little bit.”

Aryn Plax can be reached at aryn.plax@laverne.edu.

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