Closing of Saint Joseph’s prompts evaluation of UIndy

The Saint Joseph’s College board of trustees announced on Friday, Feb. 3, that the college will temporarily close after the end of the 2017 spring semester. This is the first time many students, staff and faculty of the University of Indianapolis have seen an institution such as Saint Joseph’s close, which could leave many without jobs and degrees.

Executive Vice President for Campus Affairs and Enrollment Services, Mark Weigand said that students and faculty should not be fearful that the events that happened at Saint Joseph’s could happen at the UIndy. The board of trustees, a team of experts from several different backgrounds, is held responsible for assuring the institution remains on schedule, fiscally speaking, he said. Weigand used five markers to measure a healthy institution: investments, tuition, enrollment, strategy and accreditation.

Graphic by Melvin Mendez and Madison Hays
Graphic by Melvin Mendez and Madison Hays

“There are many warning signs that institutions look for and the board of trustees—to start with—looks at those. I think there are other groups on campus that [also] are focused on those kinds of markers—financial markers, enrollment markers, what is in our strategic plan to propel us forward,” Weigand said. “I traveled to Saint Joe last Friday. We took a team. There were seven of us that went up to Saint Joe to talk to students and staff and faculty. A number of us from our institution have been in touch with Saint Joe to try to help them out, so we’re learning a lot more about the situation at Saint Joe and how it differs from the University of Indianapolis. First of all, one of the things that is happening at the University of Indianapolis that is the complete opposite of Saint Joe is our endowment is actually growing. Theirs was around [$]24 million or so just a few years ago and it is down to six million, so they were spending their endowment instead of using the interest off of it for scholarships and to help support the operating budget.”

Vice President of Communications and Marketing Jeanette DeDiemar described the endowment as “one measurement of the investment of the future” of UIndy. The endowment is set aside to make investments and also to maintain the university’s ability to run.

While Saint Joseph’s was dipping too far into its endowment, UIndy has been ahead of schedule, raising over $50 million in donations, according to Weigand. These donations show students and faculty at UIndy that people feel comfortable making large investments into our institution, he said.

“We are excited because we think that people are willing to donate, in some cases a million dollars or more, to the university,” Weigand said. “You can bet those people have really looked at the institution to see that it’s a sound investment of their hard-earned money. When you have people who are willing to step up and believe in the institution, that’s another marker of a healthy institution.”

A stable tuition is also a marker for a healthy institution, according to Weigand, and Saint Joseph’s was raising tuition but also trying to increase scholarships to equal out the expense for students. The published tuition for Saint Joseph’s 2017 fall semester was $3,200 more than UIndy’s published tuition cost. Weigand said some students’ tuition costs at St. Joseph’s were also being frozen in an attempt to retain students who could not cover the tuition increase. UIndy’s plan is to keep the tuition rate as low as possible, set it at that rate and apply scholarships, attempting to make the private education one of the most affordable in Indiana, Weigand said.

Saint Joseph’s enrollment rates were quickly declining from 1,200 students a few years ago to only 900 this year, according to Weigand. UIndy’s enrollment has been increasing, with record enrollments every year for the past 14 years. This is partially due to the undergraduate programs, graduate programs, facilities, adult learning programs and the location, he said.

“Because we’re in a large metropolitan area, we’re able to have internships [and] clinicals to support programs that Saint Joe couldn’t have. One of their struggles was their location,”  Weigand said. “When you’re a small institution, and you’re not located in an urban area where you have access to hospitals and businesses for internships and clinicals, it limits the quality of programs that you can have and the number of programs.”

With these record-breaking enrollments, it is also important to control the number of students UIndy allows in each year, to ensure students will receive the education they have come to expect, according to Weigand.

“I want to emphasize that with our enrollment growth, we make sure it is strategic,” he said. “We do have waiting lists for certain programs, [and] we have waiting lists for certain students who come in as freshmen. We’re trying to control all of that so we can maintain the good quality education that you’re used to.”

UIndy has a strategic plan, called Vision 2030, which includes renovating and adding buildings such as the library, Health Pavilion and Greyhound Village. The plan also includes adding graduate and undergraduate programs such as the new engineering program and men’s and women’s Division II lacrosse. The plan reaches out to the community through internships and transit, according to UIndy’s website.

Another healthy institution marker Weigand mentioned is being accredited by outside sources.

“We just finished an accreditation visit that was very extensive. The university had to put together a big, thick document. We had people here on campus talking to everybody. One of the big areas they look at are the finances. They look at enrollment, retention, your programs, the quality of programs, facilities, everything. We just finished an accreditation visit that came back outstanding,”  Weigand said. “Saint Joe was put on notice by the same Higher Learning Commission because of their finances. So another marker would be outside accrediting bodies looking you over…. We maintain a very healthy bond rating. So we have a number of external things we look at, too.”

UIndy is making efforts to help Saint Joseph’s students by providing counseling services, creating plans to give students the opportunity to transfer to UIndy and helping student athletes find a new home as Greyhounds, according to Weigand. UIndy has agreed to be a teach-out partner, meaning the university will try to provide them with a way to graduate, he said. Academic Affairs is
looking at ways to transfer over the curriculum at Saint Joseph’s to the curriculum at UIndy. Financially, being a teach-out partner means that while the Saint Joseph’s students who decide to come to UIndy will have to pay UIndy tuition, the university will look at the Saint Joseph’s scholarships those student’s were receiving and try to match them in an attempt to keep the overall cost similar, he said.

Weigand said that there are opportunities for UIndy students to help Saint Joseph’s students with the transition by volunteering with the Admissions Office.

“Students could help through the Admissions Office,” Weigand said. “We’re getting a lot of applications, so students who would like to volunteer, [could] maybe put their names in [at] the Admissions Office if they would be willing to show a student around who is coming from Saint Joe. They could check in with the Admissions Office to see if they are needing some help there.”

The UIndy Communications and Marketing team also is looking at the possibility of creating a group for Saint Joseph’s students and UIndy students to connect and talk about life on campus, residence halls and other opportunities available at UIndy, Weigand said.