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St. Norbert College president cites declining enrollment in decision to lay off 41 employees

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DE PERE -- As St. Norbert College lays off 41 employees, President Laurie Joyner said the school is financially "fundamentally solid" but that declining enrollment meant the school needed to rightsize. Twenty nine positions were eliminated this week with employees notified Tuesday or Wednesday. The college will lay off another 12 employees by the end of 2024. The majority of the positions were non-instructional staff roles. Seven faculty will lose their positions, three of which were visiting professors. No tenured faculty positions were cut, according to spokesperson Hannah O'Brien. President Laurie Joyner, who is in her first year leading the college, said St. Norbert isn't immune from the financial stressors affecting other colleges and universities across the country. More on Wisconsin private colleges: 6 measures that show how Wisconsin's private colleges are faring -- and how to look for red flags on your own "Demographically, we have fewer 18- to 22-year-olds, and with fewer students, organizations adjust with that and that's what we're doing," she said. In April, Cardinal Stritch University, a private Catholic school near Milwaukee, announced it was closing at the end of the semester due to declining enrollment. In August, UW-Oshkosh announced layoffs and furloughs in order to address an $18 million budget shortfall. Its leaders cited a decline in state support and enrollment. St. Norbert hasn't suffered the severe enrollment declines afflicting many other private institutions, according to federal education data. The full-time student base has hovered between 2,300 and 1,900 over the past 15 years. But in 2022, enrollment dipped to 1,775 students and again this year to 1,750 students. Private colleges like St. Norbert rely heavily on tuition dollars since they don't receive state funding like Wisconsin's public universities do. For schools like St. Norbert, even a relatively small dip in enrollment can cause financial trouble. Joyner doesn't want to raise tuition, having done so last year, and is committed to trying to keep tuition "flat," she said. However, inflation will likely lead to an increase. UW-System looks to layoffs too: Furloughs, layoffs, campus closures: 5 things to know about University of Wisconsin System finances The school has consistently kept expenses below revenue, running a deficit just once (in 2020) over the past decade, according to tax filings. Profits have ranged from $23 million to $7 million from 2007 to 2022. Joyner said the layoffs were to avoid a budget deficit this year, resulting in $5 million in savings. About two-thirds of the college's costs come from personnel and the school wasn't able to "avoid a reduction in our workforce," O'Brien said. St. Nobert employed 1,939 employees, according to its latest tax filing for 2022. These cuts reflect a 5% reduction in college's full-time positions. The last president, Brian Bruess, earned $364,000 in 2022, in addition to $45,000 in other compensation. Joyner's compensation information is not publicly available yet since she is in her first year as president. Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reporter Kelly Meyerhofer contributed to this report. Danielle DuClos is a Report for America corps member who covers K-12 education for the Green Bay Press-Gazette. Contact her at dduclos@gannett.com. Follow on Twitter @danielle_duclos. You can directly support her work with a tax-deductible donation at GreenBayPressGazette.com/RFA or by check made out to The GroundTruth Project with subject line Report for America Green Bay Press Gazette Campaign. Address: The GroundTruth Project, Lockbox Services, 9450 SW Gemini Drive, PMB 46837, Beaverton, Oregon 97008-7105. CONTINUE YOUR SUPPORT: Thanks to our subscribers for making this coverage possible. Be sure to download our app on the App Store or Google Play. Follow us on social media: Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | Newsletters

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