Area SUNYs see spike in students from downstate
Decadelong surge expected to continue as region’s population of teens declines
Charles E. Joseph Augustin describes himself as a person of adventure and exploration. So when choosing a college, Augustin was determined to get out of Brooklyn, with one caveat: He was on a public college budget and only a State University of New York campus would fit the bill.
“I wanted to go as far away as possible from my home, while staying in New York,” he said.
A friend studying biomedical engineering at the University at Buffalo recommended he look to the western part of the state. Augustin liked what he saw, and in 2015, he enrolled at UB.
He’s part of a huge uptick over the past decade in downstate students who attend UB. The number of UB undergraduates from Brooklyn more than doubled between 2006 and 2016, according to a Buffalo News analysis. Neighboring Queens now boasts more UB students – 1,284 – than any other county in the state, except for Erie County. The surge of downstate students coincided with a dramatic decline in the number of UB students from Western New York. A decade ago, half of all in-state undergraduate students at UB came from Erie, Niagara, Chautauqua, Cattaraugus, Genesee, Wyoming, Orleans or Allegany counties. The number has since dipped to 41 percent.
The trend is similar at SUNY Buffalo State, where students from downstate counties now account for a third of the entire undergraduate population, up from 12 percent in 2006. And at SUNY Fredonia, the population of students from Bronx, Kings, Queens, Orange and Westchester counties more than doubled over the past decade. SUNY Geneseo, located 40 minutes south of Rochester and 75 minutes east of Buffalo, has almost as many students from Suffolk and Nassau counties as it does from Erie and Monroe counties.
The News analysis of 10 years of SUNY enrollment data also found:
• The number of undergraduate students from SUNY Fredonia’s home county, Chautauqua County, dropped by a third, but the county continued to be the number two feeder of students to the college, behind Erie County.
• Rochester and Syracuse sent fewer students to Western New York, but those cities and their suburbs still contributed significant enrollment to area SUNY institutions.
• Western New York students still prefer to stay close to home for college. Very little of the decline among local students at
local SUNY colleges was due to more students from Western New York choosing SUNY schools from outside the area. More than 87 percent of the 15,855 undergraduate students from Erie and Niagara counties seeking a four-year SUNY degree in 2016 attended SUNY colleges in Western New York.
The downstate presence on area campuses is expected to grow further as Western New York produces fewer high school graduates year after year.
“The only geographic location that is solid for an increase of high school graduates is around New York City,” said Erin Alonzo, associate vice president of enrollment management at Buffalo State.
The influx of downstaters has contributed to a shortage of oncampus housing at Buffalo State. It has also helped spur construction of new apartments near Buffalo State and the North and South campuses of UB.
Freshman Benjamin Schiller was eager to leave Nassau County for UB, where he plans to study business.
“It’s so different,” said Schiller, a graduate of Oceanside High School.
On Long Island, he said, “everyone’s on top of each other. Being here you can actually do your own thing.”
On a sunny August morning, Schiller walked across campus with his new roommates, Jacob Gordon and D’Andre Cabrera, also from Long Island. The trio attended different high schools and didn’t know each other until meeting at a UB-hosted gathering of incoming freshmen earlier in the summer in Nassau County. But they had similar sentiments about being in Western New York.
“Everyone has a nice attitude here, not the same attitude as in New York City. Very patient,” said Cabrera, who was sporting a UB Bulls tank top.
UB attracts far more undergraduate students from overseas than it did a decade ago. The number of international students doing their undergraduate work at UB more than doubled – to 3,309 in 2016 from 1,503 in 2006. They now make up 16 percent of the overall undergraduate population. China sends the most international students to UB.
This year, that includes Jixin “Jessie” Tang, a freshman psychology major. Tang said she found the environment at the Amherst campus more conducive to learning than her hometown, Ghangzhou, one of China’s largest cities.
“It’s very different from most of the Chinese university campuses,” Tang said. “But I think Buffalo is pretty good. I don’t really like big cities. It’s too noisy and the pace of life is very fast.”
American students from outside of New York are more difficult to find at UB. They make up 3 percent of all undergraduate students, the same as in 2006.
Buffalo’sresurgencehasbecome a major selling point for student recruiters in recent years. Buffalo State in 2015 added a second staff person to its Manhattan recruitment office to help keep up with downstate interest. UB doesn’t employ recruiting staff who live in the New York City area, but university representatives have been visiting more regularly and are redoubling their efforts, particularly in Westchester and Rockland counties, said Lee H. Melvin, vice provost for enrollment management.
The university also reached out to New York City area alumni for help in locating potential students. More than 300 alumni now participate in recruitment activities, up from 11 in 2013, said Melvin.
“We’re hearing from students that they’re excited about the renaissance of Buffalo, so we’re pitching the city in our approach,” he said.
Many downstate students want to be at a city campus, but outside of the New York City area. Augustin, for example, was interested in a culturally diverse environment, along the lines of his hometown. He’s still adjusting to a Buffalo sensibility that’s vastly different from how he grew up.
“People being nice to you, willing to tolerate you. That’s one thing,” he said. “There’s none of that in New York City.”
Stony Brook University, which has a similar academic and research profile to UB, is just a 45-minute drive for Miranda Rusinski, who is from Huntington in Suffolk County. But Rusinski had little interest in going there. “Too close,” she said. Instead, Rusinski drove 7½ hours to get to UB’s North Campus in Amherst, where she now lives in a thirdfloor dorm room.
“I want to be an engineer, and the only SUN Ys that offer engineering programs are Buffalo, Binghamton and Stony Brook,” she said.
Rusinski feels right at home on campus. She said she probably encountered more Long Islanders
From left to right, Cindy Rodriguez, Oasis McBride, James Foxworth, Lisa Lin and Kaylyn Padilla move into Monarch 716 last month.