Enrollment is up at nearly every local four-year college and university, with some reaching historic highs for both incoming freshmen and total enrollment.
But just as importantly, the colleges have been able to supplement the sinking number of students in Upstate New York by widening the recruitment net.
At SUNY College at Geneseo, enrollment for the new school year is largely unchanged from the past few years, and for college officials that is a good sign.
SUNY Geneseo, like other local four-year colleges and universities that look to New York for the bulk of the student body, is facing a challenge as shifting demographics across the state have led to declines in high school graduates. The institutions began to adjust for this change a few years ago, adopting strategies to expand their recruitment areas and find new students.
These efforts have begun to appear in enrollment numbers, and though institutions will not finalize enrollment figures until near the end of the month, many have seen gains from outside the area this year.
For SUNY Geneseo, the work to expand student recruitment is reflected in the freshman class of 998.
"Our enrollment is very much like the last few years," said William Caren, associate vice president for enrollment services. "There are no trends showing up that are any different, and that is a good thing for us. We face our challenges, especially with the decline of high school graduates in New York, but we've been able to maintain what we have."
The effort to recruit more outside Western New York appears to be working, Caren said. College officials have placed more emphasis on recruiting downstate, where population demographics are more favorable.
As a result, the college has seen more students coming from the New York City area and Long Island than in the past, Caren said.
"That's where the students are and where the population is growing," Caren said. "Suffolk County, which is about as far from Geneseo as you can get in the state, is now the No. 1 county for new students in the freshman class. That used to be Monroe County every year."
St. John Fisher College, which has what should be a record total enrollment of 4,030 this year and an incoming freshman class of 580, also has seen gains from outside the region. Though St. John Fisher also focused on downstate, especially Long Island, its largest gains have come from the Capital Region.
"We're trying to expand our regionalization beyond the 100 miles of campus, where we traditionally had 80 percent of our students come from," said Gerard Rooney, vice president of enrollment management. "This year we saw a lot more students coming from the greater Albany area as well as from out of state."
Nazareth College of Rochester has its largest combined incoming class, with 472 freshmen and 164 transfer students, and officials there credit it to expanding the recruitment area and taking on new programs that attract students.
"We are seeing some changing interest in the marketplace, with the health and human services areas where we excel continuing to be robust," said Thomas DaRin, vice president for enrollment management. "Things like occupational therapy, nursing and social work are all very strong, and our school of management is also doing well."
Nazareth is using more than just academics to expand its enrollment. The college recently added men's ice hockey to intercollegiate athletics.
"Having ice hockey allows us to move into areas where we've wanted to, like international and prep school markets," DaRin said.
Nazareth also has upped its marketing efforts, putting more emphasis on technology such as social media, he noted. The result has been a 20 percent increase in student visits to campus, which DaRin sees as an indicator of recruiting success and a precursor to higher enrollment.
Though Rochester Institute of Technology pulls from a wider area and is not as affected by dropping enrollment in New York, it too has seen a shift in incoming students. The university has a plan to slowly expand enrollment, and this year's freshman class is 2 percent larger than last year's, roughly 2,800.
For RIT, the percentage of students coming from outside the state is growing as its national and international reputation grows. With enrollment growth from states such as California, Florida, Maryland and Texas, more than half of RIT students now come from outside New York.
"If you look at the types of programs we offer and our increasing presence across different college guides and ratings, it all bodes well for us," said James Miller, vice president for enrollment management and career services.
RIT's enrollment is boosted by international campuses in Dubai, Kosovo and Croatia. These campuses add roughly 1,250 students to the total enrollment, up 75 to 100 students from last year.
The number of applications to RIT has increased along with enrollment, meaning the college is raising the quality of its students as judged by factors such as SAT scores. Diversity is increasing as well, with the number of African-American, Latino and Native American students up 10 percent this year.
But as RIT pulls in more students from outside New York and the United States, it remains solidly committed to the Rochester area, Miller said.
"We've got ongoing projects with the city school district that continue to go well, and have a sizable transfer population from the area every year," Miller said. "I think just because we're making a push nationally doesn't mean we're walking away from Rochester, either. RIT will remain intertwined with Rochester and the region in many respects."
The story is much the same at the University of Rochester. A 10 percent increase in applications has led to a class with greater academic accomplishments and diversity, said Jonathan Burdick, dean of admissions and financial aid.
UR has its largest freshman class, with 1,230 students at the River Campus and 120 more at the Eastman School of Music. The growth has put the university ahead of schedule on its goal to reach 5,000 students at the college, Burdick noted. It currently is at 4,760.
The makeup of the incoming class also reflects UR's efforts to expand its recruitment area. The university stationed regional recruitment directors in places such as Dallas and Los Angeles, helping to produce a 25 percent to 30 percent increase in enrollment from the southern and western United States.
"We still have about 10 to 11 percent of students coming from Rochester, but the ones who used to come primarily from Albany and Syracuse and Ithaca are being replaced with ones from California and Colorado and Malaysia," Burdick said. "It makes for a better mix of students that really benefits everyone."
Like RIT and UR, SUNY College at Brockport has seen its recruitment efforts pay off with a larger, more diverse and higher-performing class than in past years.
The incoming class of more than 1,100 includes 18.4 percent students of underrepresented groups. Increasing applications has allowed the college to select a freshman class with greater academic and out-of-classroom achievements, noted Randall Langston, assistant vice president for enrollment management.
SUNY Brockport has seen the same kind of demographic shifts as other local colleges and also has turned more of its efforts downstate, Langston said.
"We still have a deep commitment to the Rochester and Buffalo areas, and our radius is still here, but we're seeing an increasing number of students from downstate, New York City in particular," Langston said.
Enrollment is not up for all colleges, however. Roberts Wesleyan College saw its total enrollment fall 2 to 3 percent this year, Provost Robert Zwier said.
Zwier attributed at least some of the movement this year to the volatility of enrollment across the board at New York colleges.
"It's a greater decline than we would have liked, but enrollment is variable from year to year, so to be down 3 percent is not unusual," he said. "There aren't many schools in the region so stable that they don't see some kind of variation from year to year."
Officials at Roberts Wesleyan did note fewer students from outside New York this year, leading them to view the economy as a factor.
"Seeing the number of students from outside of New York go down leads me to believe that students are staying closer to home," said Linda Hoffman, vice president of undergraduate admissions for Roberts Wesleyan.
Though there has been an overall drop in enrollment, Roberts Wesleyan is growing in some areas, Zwier noted. The adult and graduate programs have seen strong enrollment, especially in the master's-level social work program, nursing program and strategic leadership program. All those have seen higher numbers than the past two to three years, Zwier said.
While the colleges have been affected by demographic changes, economic trends also have affected enrollment. Cuts to state and local budgets have reduced the number of teachers in school districts, and there has been a corresponding drop in enrollment at many local schools of education.
"Our numbers at both the graduate and undergraduate level for teacher education are down, and that's a direct result of the situation in public schools," Zwier said.
At Nazareth, officials also have seen a drop in enrollment in the school of education as the marketplace for teachers has become increasingly competitive.
"There's a fairly large supply of people with teaching credentials, and that is creating a different landscape in terms of opportunities for education," DaRin said.
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