The search for Loyola University’s next president, a leader counted on to put the Uptown institution on a stronger financial footing, has kicked into high gear, with officials hoping to name that person by May.

Candidates vying to succeed the Rev. Kevin Wildes, who will step down in June after 14 years, are asked to submit their names for a search committee’s consideration by Jan. 20.

Officials are accepting applications from both Jesuit priests and lay candidates. If a layperson is selected, he or she would be the first such president in Loyola’s nearly 114-year history.

"This is an exciting time for Loyola University New Orleans, as we choose the best candidate to lead the university into the future,” said Dennis Cuneo, a member of Loyola’s board of trustees and chairman of the 14-member search committee.

The committee includes other board members, Loyola alumni, the Student Government Association president and university employees, according to a list Loyola provided.

A broader portion of Loyola's community will get to meet top contenders for the job, officials said.

Whoever is chosen will take the reins of a university that has been beset by financial difficulties and an enrollment slump, undergoing four rounds of buyouts or layoffs in as many years.

The problems began in 2013 after the university enrolled 200 fewer students than administrators expected, causing a budget gap of $25 million. Wildes attributed the problem in part to a national decrease in the number of high school graduates.

To solve the financial woes, Wildes and the board made personnel cuts and reduced the university's contribution to its employees' retirement funds, a contribution that was later reinstated.

Wildes also drew down from the university's endowment to keep Loyola afloat. That endowment, at present, stands at $230 million. In 2014, it was $296 million, according to the National Association of College and University Business Officers.

But the university hopes to solve those problems with the help of McKinsey and Co., a consulting firm that helps struggling organizations cut costs and retool its missions.

After work done under a new "Project Magis" recovery plan, this fall's freshman class was a third larger than the previous year's, and the university is on track to generate a budget surplus in 2019.

The next president is expected to continue to fulfill Project Magis, according to a call for applications on the website of Isaacson, Miller, the national firm Loyola has hired to manage the search process.

The new leader must also be a dynamic fundraiser. Work has already started in that regard: A drive to raise $100 million has generated more than $80 million to date.

The financial progress has led to "significant energy and excitement as the Loyola community anticipates welcoming its next president," the document states.

In addition, the chosen candidate will need to improve relations with the school's faculty and staff, some of whom have made it clear that they want to see a more hands-on president. Loyola is seeking a visible leader with a "collaborative and transparent" style, officials said.

The university welcomes contenders who are members of the Society of Jesus — the Catholic order that founded it in 1904 — but it is also opening up the pool to lay candidates "who have a deep understanding of Loyola’s Catholic Jesuit mission and ethos and the ability to inspire and engage others in this mission."

If a lay candidate is chosen, the school would continue to have a Jesuit vice president who would focus on the university's Jesuit and Catholic identity.

Asked how important maintaining Loyola’s longstanding tradition of hiring Jesuit leaders is to the current board and search committee, Vice President of Marketing and Communications Laura Frerichs said Loyola has worked with the local and national Jesuit community to recruit candidates, but she also pointed to changing times at Jesuit colleges.

While the practice of selecting a Jesuit priest to lead Jesuit universities was strong when Wildes was first tapped, she said that about half of the 28 Jesuit colleges and universities in the United States have a non-Jesuit in charge at present.

That’s up from only two colleges with lay leaders in 2003.

"We are committed to our Jesuit mission and values and will expect our next president to lead with those values, which permeate both our curriculum and our campus," Frerichs added.

After the January application deadline, officials will conduct interviews through March. The university expects to select its president by May and have him or her at work by June or July.

Loyola enrolls approximately 3,800 students.

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This story was revised Jan. 14 to update progress on fundraising and to make clear that Loyola already has a Jesuit priest as a vice president.  

Follow Jessica Williams on Twitter, @jwilliamsNOLA​.