But Lourdes University President Dr. David Livingston wants to double that percentage in the next four or five years “with just a few tweaks in where we recruit.”
“If you can get a couple of students from a high school and they have a good experience, they go home with their sweatshirt on or their gear on,” he said, explaining that word-of-mouth is still a school’s best advertising vehicle, despite a flurry of mail, social media, or TV commercials. “That’s a matter of finding those high schools that are heavily Latino—Cleveland, Chicago, Detroit, certainly Toledo.”
A pipeline of students results from those schools in a matter of a few years. It may start with two or three incoming freshmen, then increases to ten or a dozen from the same high school over the course of time.
Dr. Livingston is making Latino outreach a personal mission. He attended MidWest LatinoFest, where Lourdes University was a major presenting sponsor. He also did a recent in-person interview on the Nuestra Gente radio show. Lourdes has even translated its commercials into Spanish, advertising locally on Voces Latinas and with TRE, Inc.
But that doesn’t mean Lourdes expects to attract Spanish-language students. In fact, Dr. Livingston believes incoming freshmen will be bilingual—which increases their chances of being successful students and landing good jobs after graduation. But he admitted Lourdes and other schools will have to have services where the monolingual parents and grandparents feel comfortable, calling it “a combination.”
While other schools are focused on recruiting online students, Dr. Livingston stated the growth market will be the exploding Latino population across the U.S.
“A lot of people are predicting that one-third of the student population will be Hispanic in 25 years,” he said. “Those places that are culturally ready for that are going to be the ones that, if you’re there in the beginning, people are going to be glad that you are there to serve them and you understood their needs. They’re looking for a cultural experience where you understand where they come from a background where they live in two worlds as a global citizen, that they also have family in Venezuela or Puerto Rico.”
Dr. Livingston also pointed out that, as a Catholic university, there may be a “comfort level” for Latino students as well.
Lourdes has a Latino Student Union, but its level of activity has ebbed and flowed over the years, according to university spokesperson Heather Hoffman, depending on “the level of student leadership.” The university president also meets regularly with a Latino advisory board. 25 percent of current student body at Lourdes is from under-represented minority groups.
“The biggest challenge in making a student body more diverse is getting that initial cohort,” he said. “When you walk on this campus, whether you’re Latino, African-American, or a student from the Middle East, they can see themselves here because they can literally see themselves here in the cafeteria.”
The Lourdes president sees the Latino student population, as well as the university’s overall diversity growing “literally family-by-family, school-by-school, and church-by-church.” Dr. Livingston stated he wants Lourdes to “be representative of the region.”
Lourdes has been a longtime partner in the Diamante scholarship awards, as well as giving out annual Spanish-American Organization (SAO) scholarships during Latino Heritage Night at the Toledo Mud Hens game.
Lourdes also has awarded more than $130,000 worth of undergraduate nursing scholarships since 2012 to Latino students through a U.S. Department of Health and Human Services grant.
Dr. Livingston admitted that overall student enrollment is down at Lourdes, but part of that is by design, as the university redefines itself. Student retention is “right where we want to be,” he said, but the number of new students is down, “because it’s about increasing the quality” of students. Lourdes is now requiring the ACT entrance exam for incoming freshmen and raised a student’s overall GPA for admission. That has resulted in an immediate 15 percent drop in the number of new students.
But Dr. Livingston stated that “credit consumption” is on the rise—that means a larger number of full-time students are taking more classes than the profile of a lot of part-time students that attended three or four years ago.
Dr. Livingston became Lourdes University president a little over a year ago. He’ll deliver what could be called a “state of the university speech” as part of a Friday lunchtime speakers series on current topics in late November. But he doesn’t hesitate to share the accomplishments over his inaugural year at the helm.
“Lourdes is doing well in a significant transitional space, but we’re very excited about many projects going on at the same time,” he said, pointing out that he’s overseeing many of the projects his predecessor led through the planning stages. “It’s been learning to juggle many balls.”
As Lourdes works to shed its prior image as a commuter school by adding intercollegiate athletics and building residence halls, the future will involve polishing that image as a small, private school with a broader recruitment space. Lourdes currently offers 13 NAIA sports, but will add soccer next year.
But Dr. Livingston and his administrative team enlisted the board of trustees over the spring and summer to work on a new strategic plan for the university, as the prior 15-year plan winds down.
“I think we are honing in on it. I don’t know that we’re at100 percent that the whole community is there, but we’re very much narrowing who we want to be as a university,” he said. “I’m very excited about our ability to serve multiple constituencies at the same time.”
While Lourdes used to primarily serve the Toledo area and its nontraditional students, Dr. Livingston stated the university recently began recruiting more high school students from all across the country. He pointed out two freshmen are attending who came from Las Vegas. Lourdes also is starting to see more international students, including about 20 from Puerto Rico—many of whom play sports.
“I do think one element of the strategic plan will be internationalizing the campus and that will happen on both fronts,” he said. “When you go to lunch, you’ll sit near somebody who might be from Serbia. You might have classes or a roommate from Puerto Rico. But it might also be a situation where you have a chance to study abroad. We want an increase in a global education.”
Lourdes will offer a full semester next fall for students to study in Ireland. There is a summer study abroad program in Israel planned next year, too. There is an ongoing study abroad relationship in Brazil. All MBA students will have the opportunity to go to Brazil and China as well in the next couple of years.
During an immersion program last January, MBA students crisscrossed Brazil, visiting BM&FBOVESPA (the Brazilian stock exchange); Cummins Brasil, a global auto parts supplier that manufactures engines, fuel systems, and emissions controls; a sustainable construction project led by Odebrecht; St. Francis of Assisi church, and the Utica ethanol company. Lourdes also has established a study-abroad partnership with the Pan American school in Porto Alegre, Brazil.
“They’re trying to see international business—and they get on the ground and they see factories and visit firms, and they get a sense of what the economy is like,” said Dr. Livingston. “It gives them a different perspective when they’re interviewing or go back to their own firms because they’ve seen how it’s done in Brazil. They may even see a market opportunity, because Brazil is a growing economy.”
One tenet of the strategic plan will be student retention, what Dr. Livingston called “a significant issue for every university.”
“That means attracting the right students from the start,” he explained. “That means knowing who we are and we claim who we are—that we’re right for some people and not for everybody.”
The Lourdes University president stated two factors play a critical role in whether a student stays or leaves—finding the right ‘fit’ and finding ‘your community,’ a small circle of friends that student can hang out and study with.
“We believe we are a really great school for the solid ‘B’ student,” he said. “So that may mean a student who didn’t completely excel all throughout high school that wants to come to a place that is small enough to know your name and large enough to give you great opportunities. I think we may be a really great place for that student.”
Dr. Livingston even admitted future Lourdes students may be so-called “late-bloomers,” students who didn’t do well right away in high school—but caught on their junior year and did well grade-wise after they matured a bit. He explained that kind of student as the one who got a “C in math or a D in chemistry your freshman year and it didn’t look so hot, but that doesn’t mean you can’t do well.”
“Our strategic plan is going to call for us shrinking before we grow,” he explained. “That means recruiting the right students and being willing to shrink in a strategic way, so you can grow from a position of strength.”
Future incoming students will be required to write an essay, a strategy aimed at ensuring a freshman will be a good ‘fit’ for the university.
“We can get a better sense of the student, who they are, why they want to come to school here, and what they see in Lourdes that makes it a good fit,” he explained. “We’re excited about the coming years.”