UHC: Build it and they will come

By Peter Finney Jr., Clarion Herald

The new $14 million residence hall nearing completion at the University of Holy Cross in Algiers is a bold statement for a Catholic university that for decades has prided itself on its intimacy, affordability and results.

Dr. David “Buck” Landry, UHC president, is a numbers guy, and he’s not bashful about his reasoning for pushing the university’s board to approve the biggest capital outlay in the school’s history.

“I was on the board before I became president and was advocating for this,” Landry said. “You’ve either got to change or you’re going to die in this business. This will give us the opportunity to attract more students and will allow us to get more full-time students. Our credit hours per student will probably go up.”

Construction of the first-ever residence hall in the university’s 101-year history began last July and is expected to be completed by the end of May.

Spacious, lots of amenities

The four-story, 60,000- square-foot residence hall will include single-bed units as well as two- and four-bedroom units, a community kitchen, community living room, conference centers and two study rooms each on the second, third and fourth floors. The building also will have a prayer room, fitness center and laundry facilities.

Landry says the time is right for the residence hall.

“When we went from a college (Our Lady of Holy Cross) to a university (in 2016), we decided we needed to recruit not only in the metropolitan New Orleans area but beyond,” Landry said. “Eighty-five percent of the kids in America go to school in a two- to four-hour radius of where they were raised.”

That means UHC’s new recruitment territory stretches as far as Beaumont, Texas, to the west, Shreveport to the north and Pensacola, Florida, to the east. Currently, there are only a handful of out-of-town students among UHC’s 1,300-student enrollment.

Because of the school’s impeccable reputation for graduating students in health sciences, nursing, counseling, education, business and accounting, Landry believes UHC can become a  solid magnet for out-of-town students.

UHC’s full-time annual tuition of $12,000 is the least expensive of the private universities in Louisiana and cheaper still than some Catholic and private high schools in New Orleans.

For the last year, UHC recruiters have been on the road in the new territory to let prospective students know about the small university with low cost and excellent outcomes.

A marketing firm UHC hired has contacted 50,000 high school students with information on the school.

Applications way up

“We have twice the number of applications of new students as we had last year, so we’re hoping our freshman class is twice as big,” Landry said. “Our current freshman class is about 100 to 115. We’re expecting to have 200 next year. The key is if you can get to 200 freshmen and retain them for four years, then you can build a better base.”

Size at UHC is a relative term. Landry said the current facilities at UHC could accommodate an increase to about 1,500 students. Class sizes are rarely more than 25.

“We’re running out of laboratories more than we’re running out of classrooms because we have so many sciences,” Landry said. “We’re planning on putting in a physician’s assistant graduate program on the graduate level, and starting in June, we’re going to have a master’s program in biological science, which is really a preparatory course for medical school, so I need labs for those courses.”

UHC hopes to sign a lease agreement with St. Luke’s Living Center, right next door, for 6,000 square feet of space to convert into laboratories.

Landry said a feasibility study about five years ago justified building of a  150-bed residence hall, so the 135 beds are a conservative response to the school’s future needs.

A yearning to launch

The survey said even current students who live in the New Orleans area would consider living on campus.

“Some kids don’t want to do the drive every day and would be happy to get away from mommy and daddy,” Landry said.

Currently, the most far-flung UHC students live in LaPlace, Slidell and Lafitte, Landry said.

But the expanded recruiting push is about to change that.

“We’ve got quite a few applications from Lafayette High School, so I think we should attract students from Acadiana,” Landry said. “Our recruiters have been all over the area. If they’ve heard about us in the past, it’s been through a family member. Most of the people who came to school here came because of word of mouth. That’s really the most effective recruiting tool you’ve got – people talking to you about it.”

The cost of living in the new residential facility will be  comparable to what students pay at the University of New Orleans, Landry said.

But, Landry admits, students don’t usually think about price.

“Unfortunately, 18-year-olds don’t think like that, but it does help with the parents,” Landry said, laughing.

Peter Finney Jr. can be reached at pfinney@clarionherald.org.

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