Updated: Saturday, February 13, 2016, 1:07 AM
La Salle University, undergoing evaluation of its programs as part of a financial squeeze, has added some potentially alluring varsity sports to its lineup: women's golf, and men's and women's water polo.
Popular in the mid-Atlantic region, the sports are expected to draw more students to the university.
"The enrollment growth opportunity these new teams represent made this decision a clear one," president Colleen Hanycz said.
All three sports had been club-level activities. They will turn varsity for 2016-17, giving La Salle 25 varsity teams.
Freshman enrollment at La Salle fell from 867 in 2014 to 725 in 2015. The college last year faced a deficit equivalent to 10 percent of its operating budget, and laid off 23 employees while offering buyouts to about the same number of people.
The university recently offered buyouts to older faculty, and announced it would terminate its 33 janitorial employees on Feb. 29 and outsource the service.
At least three dozen high school students - from Philadelphia to California - have expressed interest in the new sports, said John Lyons, senior associate athletic director.
The university - which has 425 varsity athletes - chose water polo and women's golf because few area colleges offer them as varsity activities, though many have club teams.
"We think it's a niche we can enter into," he said.
Locally, Lyons said, only Villanova offers women's varsity water polo. No Philadelphia-area colleges offer men's varsity water polo, he said. Bucknell University in central Pennsylvania and Fordham University in New York City offer the sport.
The University of Pennsylvania offers varsity women's golf. "The next closest is Lehigh," he said.
In New Jersey, Princeton also offers men's water polo and women's golf.
The university said in a statement that men's water polo is sponsored by nearly 200 high schools in the mid-Atlantic region, while only 22 colleges and universities sponsor it at the collegiate Division I level. Women's water polo is sponsored by 175 high schools in the mid-Atlantic region, while there are 32 collegiate Division I teams nationwide.
Joseph Rogers, 19, a sophomore from Pittsburgh and executive vice president of the Student Government Association, said he liked the decision.
"It's great that La Salle is trying to expand their already successful athletic offerings and giving students more options when looking for a school to commit to," said Rogers, an English and secondary education major.
The university plans to offer scholarships in both sports. The cost of the programs is minimal, Lyons said, but he declined to release their budgets.
At La Salle, money has been tight. The school last fall began a process of reviewing offerings - academic and nonacademic - to determine which should be maintained, upgraded, added, or eliminated.
Recommendations are expected to go to the president and then the board of trustees later this year.
The decision to add the sports was not part of the study, said Robert C. Dickeson, a former college president turned consultant who is helping La Salle with its review.
The review is extensive, he said.
"There are lots of programs at La Salle, both academic and administrative, and all are on the table for review," he said. "They are going about it exactly as they should, with a strong bent toward making data-driven decisions."
Colleges typically save between 2 percent and 10 percent of their operating budgets over two years by prioritizing programs, said Dickeson, former president of the University of Northern Colorado. Programs that meet the university's mission and do well survive. Those under-enrolled could be bolstered if key to the mission, or might be eliminated, Dickeson said.
Read full story: La Salle adds water polo, golf to boost enrollment