President Jose Padilla leads a town hall Wednesday a Valparaiso on Wednesday. Staff poto by John J. Watkins
President Jose Padilla leads a town hall Wednesday a Valparaiso on Wednesday. Staff poto by John J. Watkins
Valparaiso University President Jose Padilla emphasized the need for the university to seek alternate revenue sources in order to support its academic programs during a town hall event on Wednesday.

He also outlined current and future initiatives meant to boost student enrollment as the university faces ongoing and looming challenges ahead.

The university president discussed how delays and complications to the Free Application for Federal Student Aid have prevented VU's ability to award financial aid to admitted students up until recently.

"That has really put us up in between a rock and a hard place," Padilla said.

He also noted FAFSA delays have made it impossible for students and families to submit the FAFSA form by Indiana's priority deadline, which was on Monday.

Padilla also warned of declining college-going rates statewide, and the impending enrollment cliff expected to occur around 2025 which will see sharp enrollment drops at higher education institutions — especially regional and liberal arts colleges in the Northeast and Midwest. Because the number of prospective students is expected to decrease, Padilla said VU needed to be more gritty and cunning to attract students.

"We're all fighting over that piece of the pie, well now the pie itself is shrinking," he said.

Padilla said they would remain focused on attracting students from Northwest Indiana, but also make efforts to recruit outside the Region, in areas including Illinois, southeast Michigan and Wisconsin.

He also pushed back on the notion VU was on the decline given the university's announcement last month it was considering cutting up to 28 undergraduate and graduate programs due to low enrollment.

Eric Johnson, the university provost and vice president for academic affairs, reaffirmed any programs that are discontinued would be phased out to allow impacted students to complete their degrees.

Additionally, he said if a program is eliminated, classes in the subject area may still be offered as a general education course, such as theology.

VU has previously said if all undergraduate programs under consideration were cut, it would impact around 3% of the current student population.

Final decisions regarding discontinuing programs are expected to be made by Aug. 1.

University officials also presented updates on proposed building projects such as a new College of of Nursing and Health Professions building to replace LeBien Hall.

Padilla said the university is planning on presenting a strategic campaign plan to the university's board of trustees at the end of this month, as the nursing and health professions building is a priority for the VU, given the current demand for healthcare professionals.

Officials also discussed Victory Village, which includes a new athletic arena and renovations to the Athletics-Recreation Center. According to interim Director of Athletics Laurel Hosmer, a market demand analysis and feasibility study has been completed for the project, with a strategic campaign plan for Victory Village expected to be presented next year, according to Padilla.

When asked about the sale of three artwork pieces to fund renovations
in some of the student residence halls, Padilla said the sale of the paintings was not finalized yet, but it was the university's desire to complete the sale and have the funding to renovate the residence halls.

The three pieces of artwork include a Georgia O'Keeffe painting once valued at $15 million.

Gail Lutze, a VU aluma and widow of a former faculty member, asked why the university had bought the land where the former Strongbow Inn was located given its financial concerns.

Valparaiso University community town hall
Gail Lutze asks a question at Wednesday's Valparaiso University community town hall.

John J. Watkins, The Times
VU purchased the property last year for $2.2 million.

In response, Vice President for Finance Mark Volpatti said the purchase was made using the university's endowment fund for investment purposes

He and Padilla also added that VU was also actively working to sell off property not vital to the university, mainly on northern and southwestern parts of campus.

According to Volpatti, they had a buyer who was interested in the area known as the 3D Property, located on Lincolnway. A deal for the parcel could be done by this fall or early next spring he said.
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