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New Lourdes president sees room to grow

Ambitions include enrollment boost, more on-campus students


David Livingston was introduced as the ninth president of Lourdes University on Wednesday. He succeeds Robert Helmer.

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Lourdes University’s newly announced president has ambitious goals to increase the Sylvania school’s residential student population.

David Livingston, vice president of advancement of the Erie, Pa.-based Mercyhurst University, was introduced as Lourdes’ ninth president at a Wednesday ceremony. His selection was kept quiet before the announcement, but his plans for the school are quite loud.

Mr. Livingston’s vision for Lourdes includes increasing the number of full-time, on-campus students by nearly eight-fold, the kind of change that could turn Sylvania from a town with a college into a college town.

“I think Sylvania is the perfect college town,” Mr. Livingston said.

Mr. Livingston, 48, succeeds Robert Helmer, who resigned last year after 10 years as president to take a similar position at Baldwin-Wallace College in Berea, Ohio. Provost Janet Robinson has served as interim president for the university.

In many ways, Mr. Livingston’s plan for growth is an extension of Mr. Helmer’s efforts at Lourdes. Enrollment more than doubled under Mr. Helmer’s tenure, though that trend slightly reversed this year. Program offerings expanded, the school added athletics and residential housing, grant funding grew, and the school added buildings.

The school enrolls about 2,500 students, and its strategic plan already called for enrollment to increase to 3,000 by 2015.

But Lourdes’ growth in recent years came with nontraditional students and commuters. Only about 270 students stayed in Lourdes housing this fall. Mr. Livingston said most future growth at Lourdes would come from traditional students, and he envisions the on-campus student population increasing to possibly 2,000 students in the next decade.

Many a university president has announced plans for large expansions of their schools, but contracting demographics and increased cost pressures have stunted that enrollment growth in the region. To attract new students, the school will have to aggressively market itself to a larger area and develop a reputation as a destination campus.

Part of that marketing, Mr. Livingston said, would be the campus itself, which he called an “absolute gem.”

Recently purchased apartments and the school’s mid-campus expansion should accommodate most of the hoped for growth in the immediate future. The pace of growth would also depend on Sylvania.

“I don’t want [the growth] to happen faster than the campus or community can handle,” Mr. Livingston said.

Mr. Livingston has been vice president for advancement at Mercyhurst since 2008, and he first joined the university in 1997. He served time as president of the Faculty Senate and also chaired the religious studies department.

Thomas Geiger, Jr., chairman of the Lourdes board of trustees, said Mr. Livingston helped lead a university that saw record-breaking enrollment, added new programs, and expanded its facilities. He said Lourdes was looking for a president who embraced Catholic and Franciscan values, could partner with the community, understood the needs of traditional and non-traditional students, and had a proven track record in institutional growth.

“We believe [Mr. Livingston] has the strength and understanding and humility to grow in the job itself and also lead the Lourdes University community for years to come,” he said.

A Catholic, Mr. Livingston said he feels most comfortable working at Catholic higher education institutions that are affiliated with religious orders, especially those of women-led orders. Lourdes was a perfect fit.

“I really believe Lourdes is a special place,” he said.

Mr. Livingston will take over as president July 1 and will be formally inaugurated in the fall. An advocate for a liberal arts education, he said he wants to create a balance with preparing students for their professional choices, while also continuing the liberal arts traditional of a well-rounded education.

He acknowledged the difficulty in providing a quality education that creates the graduates employers want while maintaining affordability for students. He said he doesn’t expect the school to have large tuition increases in coming years.

Mr. Livingston has a bachelor’s degree in chemistry from Augustana College, a master’s degree in theology from Loyola University, and a doctorate in theology from Vanderbilt University. He is married and has two children.

Lourdes will have to begin a search soon to replace Ms. Robinson as provost, as she plans to retire June 30.

Contact Nolan Rosenkrans at: or 419-724-6086, or on Twitter @NolanRosenkrans.

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