It’s been a challenging decade for leaders at Loyola University New Orleans, who have been intensely focused on fixing the financial problems that first surfaced in 2012. The Uptown New Orleans school turned a major corner recently when it was taken off temporary financial probation by its regional accrediting agency.
The clean bill of fiscal health from the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges came after the university spent a year under conditional sanction for failing to meet two key benchmarks: having sound financial resources and managing those resources responsibly. The designation was a black mark on the university’s public image. A lack of accreditation can prevent schools from offering certain degrees, receiving some federal grants and providing low-interest student loans.
The commission’s decision is just one sign that things at Loyola are looking up, following a downturn prompted by an unexpected enrollment drop in 2013, which led to a $25 million deficit. The school responded by dipping into the endowment, cutting spending, and laying off employees. In 2016, it brought in the consulting firm McKinsey & Co. to comb through the budget. Last year, after two years on watch, accreditors placed the school on probation because it didn’t pass a balanced budget in 2018; university officials said meeting that benchmark would have forced even deeper cuts, which they weren’t willing to make.
But there’ve also been plenty of positive developments in the last few years, from better recruitment, to a successful $101 million fundraising drive, to the hiring of a dynamic new president, Tania Tetlow, the first woman and first layperson to lead the Jesuit institution.
The proof is in the numbers. Loyola’s Fiscal 2019 budget is not only balanced but carries a $2.4 million operating surplus. Total enrollment for undergraduate and graduate students has increased from 3,836 four years ago to 4,422 this year. The incoming first-year class has grown from 612 in 2016 to 822 in 2019.
The school continues to attract a diverse student body, with about 55% of the first-year class made up of students of color. More than 30 % are the first in their families to go to college. While 39% are from Louisiana, the class includes students from 44 state and 16 countries.
This all comes during a challenging time for universities in general, and Loyola is planning for the seismic changes affecting all of higher ed by investing in expanding continuing education and online degree programs.
It’s been a tough stretch, but one that’s also presented the opportunity for university leaders to rethink everything from spending to priorities. The accrediting agency’s all-clear is recognition that hard work has positioned Loyola for a bright and financially sound future.