With enrollment declining, Benedictine University in Lisle announces layoffs

Benedictine University in Lisle is trimming staff as it deals with declining enrollment and an end to COVID relief funds.

The university, which also has a campus in Mesa, Arizona, cut about 40 employees and is considering other measures to ensure the institution’s future. The university had a small round of layoffs in the winter, which resulted in nine job cuts.

The last time the university faced large-scale layoffs was before the pandemic, a university official said.

“Facing these challenges head-on, Benedictine University is committed to embracing the future with optimism and resilience,” Josephy Foy, university president, said in a written statement. “Our institution must adapt and evolve to thrive in a rapidly changing educational sector and meet emerging needs.”

Like other universities, Benedictine has seen its student enrollment at both of its campuses drop from 4,100 students in the fall of 2019 to about 3,000 students today, said Karen Campana-Schaller, the university’s chief of staff. Between 2020 and 2023, the university also received more than $23 million in COVID-related state and federal relief aid.

“Going forward, we don’t see any of those additional funds becoming available,” Campana-Schaller said.

She said the school’s declining enrollment is due to various factors, including a decline in the birthrate and a change in attitude toward college education among high school students.

Despite the challenges, Campana-Schaller said the 145-year-old university is committed to its scholarship programs and announced a new initiative that covers any remaining fees or tuition costs for full-time students who qualify for a Pell Grant.

The university also intends to continue its scholarship program. The average incoming freshman or transfer student at the Lisle campus receives about $17,000 in scholarship awards applied toward the university’s annual $35,940 tuition and fees. In Mesa, the average scholarship award is $11,500, while tuition and fees cost $23,480. Room and board costs more than $10,000 at either campus.

Campana-Schaller said the university also is committed to ensuring students see little change with the cuts. She noted no academic or athletic programs have been eliminated as a result of the cuts.

“The biggest thing is that we wanted to ensure that all students are served at the same quality as they have before,” she said.

Within the past several months, university officials have worked with staff, the board of trustees and community leaders to develop a strategic plan that addresses key issues such as program growth, financial stability, community engagement and academics. The university is expected to finalize its strategic plan later this fall.

“We are looking forward to the next 145 years and knew that we had to make tough decisions in order to create a sustainable operation as we move forward,” Campana-Schaller said.

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