The St. Leo University website still lists Jeffrey de Senis as its president and refers to him as a “brave leader”. But since the long holiday weekend began last Friday, it has quietly posted a news release announcing Senice’s immediate departure and introducing his replacement.
In a press release introducing Edward Daddy as St. Leo’s 11th president, he says nothing more about Senses than resigning. University officials declined to comment outside the statement, and St. Leo’s president since 2018, Sennis, said via electronic communication that he could not comment.
But the rapid and abrupt turnover at the top follows other recent turmoil at the university, including a failed merger with the University of Marymont California, the May departure of the university’s chief business officer and a dramatic drop in enrollment in recent years.
St. Leo is a small Roman Catholic university in St. Leo, Fla It came online more than 20 years ago, in an attempt to maintain its prominent role in educating military service members in distance learning centers. In 1997, it entered into an unusual agreement with Bisque Education, now known as the Online Program Management Market. It subsequently brings all the instructional design, marketing, hiring and other services in-house – a primary institution to do so.
Like many early pioneers of online education, though – look at the struggles of places like the now closed Merrillhurst University – St. Leo has had trouble enrolling its enrollments as large, well-branded public universities expand their online efforts, and Southern New Hampshire University and Western Governors University has become a magnet for adult students.
According to the latest available data from the Department of Education’s Integrated Post-Secondary Education Data System, the number of fully online students at St. Leo’s has dropped from 15,000 in 2015 to about 7,000 in 2018 and 6,350 in 2020. The university’s overall duplicate head count enrollment dropped from 27,289 in 2015 to 22,018 in 2018 and 18,191 in 2020, while its full-time-equivalent enrollment dropped from about 15,000 in 2015 to 10,2002.
Under Senses, who was appointed provost in 2017 and promoted to president the following year, the university undertook a number of ambitious efforts to expand its activities. In 2019, it made an arrangement with the University of Notre Dame de Namur, another Benedictine university, to help it market and run its online MBA program. (Notre Dame de Namur struggled financially and became a graduate-only online institution in 2021.)
About a year ago, St. Leo announced plans to merge with the University of California, Marymount, another financially ill Roman Catholic institution. But the Southern Association of Colleges and School Commission blocked the merger in December, forcing the parties to abandon the deal and close Marymont California.
Also, in May, John Nisbet, chief financial officer of St. Leo, who joined the university in 2018 and whose responsibilities included creating a five-year plan, also resigned — there was little comment from the university. Nisbet’s LinkedIn profile identifies him today as a consultant and business owner.
Dadez, the new president, is a St. Leo alumni who previously served as the university’s provost, an education professor and vice president who supported “the university’s regional education center, online education programs, student affairs and campus operations.”
“I am excited to be able to work with students, faculty, staff and alumni to strengthen the university experience and make it possible for more students to pursue their academic and professional goals,” Daddy said in a news release.