Some State University of New York comprehensive colleges have struggled as much as private institutions to attract students in recent years. SUNY Fredonia, for example, mothballed a residence hall a couple of years ago when there simply weren’t enough students living on campus. Enrollment at Fredonia dipped by nearly 800 students between 2013 and 2017, helping to fuel of budget deficit of $8 million this year.
College officials were encouraged this fall by a small increase in students from 2016, including Fredonia’s largest freshmen class since 2008. They see other positive signs for 2018, such as a third more applications for admission at this time of year when compared with 2016. But the college also is taking a more long-term approach to developing prospective students, including creating a pre-college outreach office that helps prepare students as early as seventh and eighth grade for the academic rigor of college.
The college also has refocused attention on nearby high schools. Some students from those high schools now can attend Fredonia tuitio-free and save further on expenses by commuting to campus.
“We have a pretty nice size collegegoing population here,” said Cedric Howard, vice president of enrollment and student services at Fredonia. “If we do a better job of retaining students, it’s more cost efficient for them and they’re more likely to remain in the area and search for employment in the area long term.”
Howard anticipates enrollment climbing back to about 5,300 undergraduate and graduate students within three to four years.
Houghton College, a small Christian liberal arts school in Allegany County, is trying to turn around enrollment declines through a series of innovative strategies, which include a pledge to give graduates a free bonus year of college if they don’t land a job or get accepted into graduate school in their field of choice.
The college also is offering all new students in 2018 a $2,500 per year scholarship, and is in the midst of a $70 million capital campaign to help fund scholarships going forward.
“Obviously, Excelsior was part of that equation,” said Ryan Spear, director of admissions. Surveys of prospective students who chose another college in 2017 showed that 22 percent picked a SUNY two- or four-year campus. That was up from about 15 percent in previous years, indicating that Excelsior may have played a factor in their decision, said Spear.
The dearth in traditional college students has prompted Houghton to pursue other possibilities. A few years ago, the college launched a twoyear program in Buffalo to serve immigrants and refugees. The program boasts a retention rate of better than 80 percent and now enrolls about 60 students. It spawned a similar program that started this fall in Utica, another city with a large immigrant and refugee population.
“Where the Northeast is going to see gains is in the first-generation, traditionally under-represented students,” Spear said. “These are underserved populations that fit with our mission.”
Professor Ron White, right, refers to a skeleton during a functional anatomy class at D’Youville College.