Kolison: Difficult choices needed for ‘brighter future’
An open letter to the residents of Chautauqua County:
I trust that you have read the story in today’s newspaper about the roadmap I presented to campus on Wednesday for ensuring a brighter future for SUNY Fredonia. I want to address the residents of Chautauqua County directly about the future direction of the university.
Let me begin by making one thing very clear: SUNY Fredonia will remain a vibrant part of this region for generations to come. The university is not closing.
New York’s demographics have changed dramatically over the past 10 to 15 years. While census data shows that the overall population of the state grew from 2010 to 2020, almost 95% of that growth was in the 65 and over demographic. Meanwhile, the “25 and younger” population fell by nearly 260,000. Competition over this smaller base of college-bound students has contributed to enrollment challenges at many institutions.
In our case, our enrollment has declined by approximately 40% since Fall 2015. Because tuition is the single largest source of direct revenue for most institutions including ours, enrollment declines have contributed to financial challenges. SUNY Fredonia’s deficit, after applying one-time monies and non-planning revenues, is currently about $10 million. Hence, It would be both imprudent and irresponsible not to address these realities. We need to make choices – including some difficult choices – that we believe will, in the long term, put Fredonia on sound financial footing.
At my address to the campus, I presented a vision for a brighter future for SUNY Fredonia. The key elements of our roadmap focus on revenue generation, strategic reductions in expenditures, and efficiency enhancement. No one single pillar is the antidote for the challenges we face, and all must be carried out in concert to right this ship without delay.
Regarding revenue generation, we will develop innovative programs that are in high-demand by students. That work has already begun as we have launched new Clinical Mental Health Counseling and Educational Leadership degrees. Just this week, we received authorization from the SUNY Board of Trustees to confer Master of Business Administration degrees. Other programs are in development that will help us increase our enrollment and generate revenue.
We will also review academic programs, their respective enrollments and market trends on a regular basis, and then make the necessary adjustments. The university will continually adjust its academic array to meet the demands of a dynamic job market and societal shifts. By staying attuned to emerging trends and fostering innovative programs, SUNY Fredonia will remain relevant in a rapidly changing higher education landscape.
We have identified 13 programs we are recommending for discontinuation. These 13 programs represent 15% of all majors at SUNY Fredonia, but yet currently have a combined enrollment of 74 students, which equals just over 2% of the undergraduate student population. Also, approximately one-third of those 74 students are set to graduate this spring. I want to make it clear that the programs listed do NOT reflect poorly on that program’s quality or its dedicated faculty and staff.
The third element of our blueprint is efficiency enhancement. Although significant steps have been taken in recent years to reduce expenditures, my Cabinet and I will continue to emphasize a disciplined approach to cost management, identifying areas for optimization without compromising the quality of education, student life, or commitment to faculty and staff.
SUNY Fredonia is a vital asset to the village of Fredonia, the city of Dunkirk, and all of Chautauqua County. The university contributes millions of dollars annually to the local economy. Beyond the direct spending on goods and services, the influx of students and faculty creates a multiplier effect, generating additional economic activities. The university is not merely a campus within these towns; it is an integral part of their cultural, economic, and social fabric. This is among the many reasons why our work to put the university on solid financial footing is so critical.
SUNY Fredonia benefits from the broader SUNY system, a network that provides shared resources, expertise, and opportunities for collaboration. Leveraging the strengths of this system allows SUNY Fredonia to weather financial storms effectively ensuring that Fredonia continues to offer quality education to its students.
The blueprint we are advancing will enhance our capacity for a stronger future and ensure SUNY Fredonia will remain a vital part of our region for generations to come.
Thank you for your time and interest in SUNY Fredonia.
Stephen Kolison is president of the State University of New York at Fredonia.