Generous gift expands the horizon at Le Moyne
By Jennika Baines
SUN assoc. editor
Just drive by the Le Moyne College campus in Syracuse and it becomes obvious that big changes are taking place.
But the tractors and backhoes creating a new multi-use turf complex on the campus grounds have nothing on the changes taking place in the college’s boardrooms, classrooms and dorm rooms.
A record-breaking swell in enrollment, a multi-million dollar endowment, and a campus-wide program focused on the College’s mission and goals means that this is an important time for Le Moyne.
Even with the slumping economy and tighter holds on family finances, this year’s incoming freshman class at Le Moyne will be the largest in the school’s history. With 615 students filling the college’s halls and classrooms, this class surpasses Le Moyne’s previous record, set in 2007, of 545 students.
Dennis DePerro, vice president for enrollment management at Le Moyne, said the increase comes as a result of a number of factors.
More aggressive recruitment, increasing college visibility in the community and the media, and careful responses to changing demographics in the Northeast are some of the reasons Le Moyne was able to attract so many new students, he said.
“We were able to achieve this because we had a clear plan,” DePerro said.
Despite the rising cost of tuition, a college education will have a lifetime impact on a person’s earning potential, DePerro said. It is, he said, an investment in the student’s own future.
According to the Le Moyne College website, the total cost of a Le Moyne education, including tuition, fees, room, board and personal expenses like travel and books, is about $38,500 per year. Tuition and fees alone have risen from $14,230 in the 1998-99 school year to $23,760 last year.
But DePerro said approximately 90% of students at Le Moyne receive some form of funding from the college. Funding can take the form of loans, scholarships, grants or work-study opportunities.
DePerro is also particularly excited about the Loyola Institute, a program that enables students in Catholic high schools in the diocese to take classes that could earn them a semester’s credit at Le Moyne at a significantly reduced rate. If students successfully complete the entire program and go on to attend Le Moyne, $10,000 will be taken off their tuition fees each year.
“It’s a commitment to our Catholic schools,” DePerro said. It’s a program that, he said, benefits both students and Le Moyne. “It’s a tool to continue to attract students to Catholic secondary schools,” he said.
All of Marlene Sierotnik’s seven children have gone through Catholic schools, and the five old enough to attend college have all attended Le Moyne.
Although the tuition is certainly an issue to deal with, Sierotnik said Le Moyne is very good about providing financial assistance. “In the long run, Le Moyne becomes very affordable, on par with state schools, because of the aid you receive,” Sierotnik said.
And the school’s programs and reputation are worth the financial strain.
“Besides being a great academic institution, it challenges the kids to excel,” Sierotnik said. It is also a very family-based school, she said. “The professors are always there for them if there’s an issue or if they need extra help.”
And Sierotnik should know. She is a graduate of Le Moyne, as are both of her parents.
“One of my girls lived in the same room I lived in,” Sierotnik said, laughing. “That was weird.”
Sierotnik said Le Moyne has provided excellent resources for her children and has helped them prepare for their careers.
DePerro said this commitment to success is integral to Le Moyne’s mission.
“We are focused on developing individuals who will make the world a better place,” DePerro said. “We’re pretty passionate about that.”
One student who embodies this commitment is Andrew Lunetta of Needham, Mass.
Lunetta, a sophomore, is a peace and global studies major who is particularly interested in the role of education in international development. “I really liked that community service could be an integral part of student life here,” he said.
As a freshman, he started volunteering twice a week at the Samaritan Center in downtown Syracuse. “I fell in love with the place,” Lunetta said.
He said he noticed, however, that there were very few options for healthy lunches available for those in need. He contacted the campus ministry office for financial help, and now he and some of his friends make sandwiches to bring to the Samaritan Center twice a week.
“We’ve all become really, really close just because of making sandwiches for people,“ Lunetta said. He and his friends have also started making sandwiches for the Oxford Street Inn, and he said he looks forward to having some of those friends come with him to help hand them out.
“It’s one thing to make the sandwiches for these people, but it’s another thing to go down and meet them and interact with them,” Lunetta said.
Lunetta has also begun collecting books for the Oxford Street Inn library, and is looking to the community for donations. He said used books can be dropped off at the campus ministry office in the chapel on the Le Moyne campus.
This kind of commitment to education as well as service is one of the reasons that Robert and Catherine McDevitt of Binghamton left Le Moyne a $50 million gift last November.
The money, which nearly doubled Le Moyne’s total endowment, will be directed to the academic areas of computer science, information processing, physics and religious philosophy.
DePerro said this endowment was a big draw for many. “For prospective students and their families, it was a key indicator for them of the confidence people have in our college,” he said.
Dr. Fred Pestello, Le Moyne’s president, has said that even though the money is dedicated to funding these four areas of study, it also means that resources will now be freed up to benefit other college facilities, programs and services.
DePerro said the endowment won’t lead to a change in the college’s mission.
“The McDevitts clearly have entrusted their wealth to the college so the Jesuit mission, the Catholic mission, of this college can continue,” he said.
That mission is currently in the process of being more clearly defined in response to a program initiated by Pestello’s convocation address in the fall of 2008. Called “OneLeMoyne,” the program opened up the opportunity for campus-wide dialogue centered on the question “What must Le Moyne College become?”
Dolores Byrnes, Coordinator of Strategic Planning at Le Moyne, said the process is one of “collective discernment.” OneLeMoyne is an ongoing process in which faculty, staff and students collaborate on what the college’s goals are and how best to reach them.
As part of the process, three open sessions were held on campus at which everyone was invited to provide input on the nature of the college and on its future. There were also over 120 individual meetings with faculty and staff.
“The faculty, by department, came to Dr. Pestello’s apartment. We ate pizza, and we talked about the future of their disciplines,” Byrnes said.
A committee, including one student representative, has drawn up a document stating what makes Le Moyne distinctive and what the Le Moyne community believes its goals to be, as well as some strategies for achieving them.
During the fall convocation on Sept. 11, Dr. Pestello will make public the first draft of the committee’s findings. A more finalized version will be published on Dec. 11. The draft documents are available online at www.lemoyne.edu/onelemoyne.
These findings will form the core of Le Moyne’s fundraising and strategic planning efforts. In another five years, Byrnes said, these goals will be revisited.
Some of the changes that came along with the OneLeMoyne program have been immediate, while others will take longer to implement. Byrnes said one immediate change was to make the college’s budget public.
Being aware of the college’s funding status meant that faculty and staff were better prepared to understand the impact of the economic crisis on their jobs. While there was a salary freeze this year, that meant that the college was able to make good on its commitment not to lay off any employees due to the economy.
A more long-range goal includes plans to improve the facilities on the campus. “This is not a luxurious campus or an ostentatious campus in any way, and in a way that’s part of who they are,” Byrnes said. But improvements to the buildings will, she said, “make sure the students feel the place is committed to excellence in every thing.”
Sharing a city with Syracuse University means that a small liberal arts college like Le Moyne can sometimes be overshadowed by comparison. “You have to really compare yourself to other Catholic colleges,” Byrnes said.
The OneLeMoyne process is something Byrnes speaks about with passion.
“I felt privileged to be able to craft these documents at all because I think people didn’t always realize what they were achieving,” she said.
“I learned everyone — groundskeepers, security, people who work in the cafeteria, everyone really values working here — and they really love the students.”