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SUNY numbers still work in progress

OBSERVER Photo by M.J. Stafford Construction workers on the job near Reed Library on the SUNY Fredonia last week.

The SUNY Fredonia College Council heard plenty of sunny talk about commencement and the campus fight against COVID-19 at its quarterly meeting this month.

The storm clouds of stagnant enrollment were still on the agenda, however.

Stephen Kolison, the university’s president, started his report by gushing over the commencement services, the first full graduation event on campus since 2019.

“That’s very exciting to our staff, very exciting to our students, very exciting to our whole community,” he declared.

“It’s very exciting to me, too,” said Frank Pagano, College Council chairman. Kolison said he was also excited.

The university president also praised students, faculty and staff for holding to COVID-19 protocols. He noted that the campus never entirely shut down, while some much more sizable schools did for periods of time.

When it was time to talk about the student enrollment situation — it’s down more than 20% from its all-time high of around 5,000 — Executive Vice President and Provost for Academic Affairs David Starrett led the discussion.

He expects SUNY Fredonia’s enrollment to be about 3,800 at the start of the 2022-23 school year. That is virtually the same number enrolled for the start of the current year, 3,780.

Starrett said with gas prices at an all-time high, there is a trend of students attending colleges closer to home. Kolison said 90 to 95% of SUNY Fredonia’s students are residents of New York.

With the campus closer to both Pennsylvania and Ohio than it is to New York City, university officials are redoubling efforts, already set into motion earlier in the school year, to recruit students from those states.

“New York is losing population so we have to expand outside the state,” Kolison said. “Our numbers (of students from) outside the state are small compared to most public institutions.”

Starrett said the university also has opportunities in Canada now that the pandemic is winding down.

He said the university is also going to be hiring a consultant to help it put together an academic master plan, “to figure out what our identity is, academically.”

Starrett added more information on an arrangement between SUNY Fredonia and Jamestown Community College, in which students of JCC will be able to work toward four-year Fredonia degrees in Jamestown, is coming in June.

He warned, “As a pilot program, you may have low enrollments at first. You don’t want to give up.”

Kolison said a market for applicants is with so-called “non-traditional students,” meaning adults who never attended or finished college.

There are several large projects on campus which university officials hope can attract students. About $35 million was spent on an overhaul of Houghton Hall, which is set to be reoccupied in August. A $42 million renovation project at Jewett Hall is in the design phase and $10.15 million in work at Reed Library is in the approval phase.

Kolison said, “This school is still very attractive,” with large numbers of students applying.

Pagano replied, “We gotta convert those applications. Bottom line.”

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