Saint Leo University announces deep cuts less than a year after the takeover collapsed

Listen to article 5 min This audio is automatically generated. Please let us know if you have any feedback. Dive Brief: Saint Leo University on Thursday announced a series of sharp cuts to become more efficient and focus on areas of growth after reviewing enrollment trends. The Florida Catholic institution will cut 111 faculty and staff positions, close eight of 14 branch offices, close six of 23 sports teams and end three college programs. The plans for the cuts come less than a year after a failed attempt for Saint Leo to grow by acquiring Marymount California University. Saint Leo’s accreditor, the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges, did not support the deal due to concerns about Saint Leo’s budgeting. Dive insight:

Saint Leo’s new plans demonstrate the high level of uncertainty gripping even some colleges that see themselves as buyers in the hot college mergers and acquisitions market.

Saint Leo once planned to have expanded to the West Coast by this time through an acquisition of Marymount California, which had a Los Angeles-area campus enrolling more than 500 students. Instead, Saint Leo is divesting itself of its own branches, and the president who ran it during the merger attempt is gone.

Saint Leo, which is based about 30 miles north of Tampa, originally planned to complete its West Coast acquisition in January of this year. Marymount California had been looking for a partner for years as it faced declining enrollment. Through the deal, the University of Florida would also have assumed Marymount’s debt.

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But after the accreditor refused to sign off, Marymount California said it would be shut down. In September, the University of California, Los Angeles announced an $80 million purchase agreement for two of the former Marymount California campuses.

The president who ran Saint Leo when the merger was announced, Jeffrey Senese, resigned less than three months after the takeover talks collapsed. Senese was replaced in July by Edward Dadez, who had been provost of Saint Leo.

Saint Leo did not comment on the reasons for the change in personnel when it was announced.

The institution has seen sharp enrollment declines over the past decade, according to federal data showing a total of 9,523 undergraduate enrollments as of fall 2021. That’s down from 15,564 ten years ago.

Saint Leo says its undplied headcount over a year is more than 15,300. A world campus offering online degree programs in Spanish in Latin America was launched last fall and has enrolled over 1,000 students to date, it said.

The university has suffered operating losses in recent years, losing nearly $7 million in fiscal 2022, $1.6 million in 2021 and $17.3 million in 2020, according to its audited financial statements.

Now there will be talk of significant cuts. Over the next six months, Saint Leo will close educational centers it operates in five states: two in South Carolina, one in Mississippi, one in Texas and four in Florida. Students enrolled at those campuses can continue their coursework online, the university said.

Six track and field programs end at the end of the season. Saint Leo didn’t immediately say which programs were affected, as multiple teams were traveling and planned to discuss the changes with them when they returned to campus. The institution competes in NCAA Division II track and field.

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The academic programs that will be closed include a bachelor’s degree in international hospitality, a bachelor’s degree in human services and a master’s degree in human services. The institution is moving courses at its current College of Education and Social Services to other colleges at the end of the academic year.

Of the 111 faculty and staff positions cut, 27% were “recently vacant,” according to Saint Leo. Some of the posts were axed Thursday, while others will remain in place through the end of the academic year, a spokesman said in an email.

The institution now wants to focus on growth areas. These include an undergraduate program in nursing, within-college programs in computer science, artificial intelligence, robotics, and data science, and professional development for businesses.

The canceled merger did not impact Saint Leo’s current plans, which are part of ongoing work to respond to enrollment trends and become more efficient, according to the university’s spokesman.

“We had to find the right size by cutting costs,” Saint Leo President Dadez said in a statement. “We are in a much stronger financial position now. We will now strive to match our campus and online enrollment numbers; add academic programs that increase enrollments; develop new sources of income; and expand our university fundraising program. These strategies offer stability and opportunities for growth.”