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ENROLLMENT BOOM HITS LOCAL SCHOOLS

This is a blockbuster year for Western New York's colleges and universities.

More than 101,400 students signed up for courses, pushing local enrollment to an all-time high.

Both the University at Buffalo and Buffalo State College have their highest enrollments in years -- and Erie Community College, up more than 1,200 students, has the largest increase of any of the State University of New York's 30 community colleges.

D'Youville, Hilbert, Houghton and Medaille colleges all are enjoying record numbers, and ITT Technical Institute in Getzville, established with eight students five years ago, now has 600.

In all, Western New York has about 4,300 more students on its campuses than it did this time last year.

Administrators say the reasons are myriad -- and are topped by the fact that the college-age population has risen across the nation.

Locally, the price is right and so are the programs, according to Sister Denise A. Roche, president of D'Youville College, which is marking its seventh straight year of record enrollment.

"Western New York's colleges and universities are affordable," she said, "and they pay attention to the job needs of the future by addressing those needs with the right academic programs."

Many of the area's schools of higher education are also availing themselves of the Canadian market, Roche added. And many local institutions have greater numbers because of greater unemployment.

"That is always surprising to me," Roche said. "You'd think that, in times of unemployment, people would have less money -- but they look at unemployment as an opportunity for change, returning to school to earn a degree or coming back for a second degree."

With the region's economy struggling, these higher enrollment numbers can only bolster higher education's strong economic impact in this area.

UB's economic impact alone is estimated at $1.6 billion, Buffalo State's at $400 million and ECC's at over $120 million.

Seven of Western New York's 13 private institutions -- Canisius, D'Youville, Hilbert, Trocaire and Villa Maria colleges and Niagara and St. Bonaventure universities -- have a combined economic impact of about $750 million, according to George M. Palumbo, chairman of Canisius College's economics and finance department.

Some local colleges are seeing late transfers by students shaken by the terrorist attacks who suddenly want to attend classes closer to home.

Most area colleges have new marketing plans or are making other institution-specific efforts to recruit and keep students.

A key at Buffalo State this fall is the college's newly renovated Moot Hall -- home to admissions, registration, financial aid, student accounts and veterans services.

Buffalo State is enjoying its largest number of full-time freshmen (1,328) since 1991 and the largest number of graduate students (2,154) since 1976, Kraus said.

The college is also seeing a nearly 4 percent improvement in student retention, and unprecedented numbers of first-time students identified the college as their first choice, Kraus said.

ECC's 10 percent jump in enrollment, across all programs and campuses, includes a 26.7 percent increase in evening students, noted college President William J. Mariani.

"People are recognizing ECC more and more as an economic-development tool," he said. "More and more are signing up for courses to increase their skills, to become employed or to acquire the skills to be promoted."

ECC's entry this fall into the Northeast Football Conference also contributed to the college's dramatic enrollment increase, bringing both would-be players and cheerleaders to ECC, administrators said.

With an enrollment climb of about 38 percent in the past 12 months at ITT Technical Institute in Getzville, the school is fast running out of room.

"We need to get more space quick," said Suzanne Noel, local director of recruitment for ITT. The school's Getzville branch was recently cited as having the greatest enrollment growth of the 70 ITT colleges nationwide.

"I think people are realizing that technology is where the opportunities are," said Noel.

ITT began here in 1996 with one program, and now offers six, she said.

Hilbert College's increase in students includes a 90 percent increase in enrollment for its economic crime investigation program and a 63 percent increase in its liberal studies (law and government) program.

"This year's enrollment surpassed our expectations and has us reaching beyond the 1,000 mark for next fall," said Hilbert President Sister Edmunette Paczesny, noting that the Hamburg institution is completing its first decade as a four-year college.

Houghton College's record-breaking numbers are character- and value-based, according to Tim Fuller, the Christian institution's vice president for enrollment management.

"Character and values are more important than ever in today's world," he said.

"Evangelical colleges like Houghton have been growing rapidly over the past five years," he said. "This is due in large measure to increasing parent-student interest in colleges that stress the development of the whole person -- intellectually and socially, to be sure, but spiritually as well."

Medaille College, where enrollment has more than doubled since 1995, is seeing a 5 percent overall increase in numbers, including an increase of almost 17 percent in graduate students, said acting President John J. Donohue.

Daemen College's higher numbers are marked by increases in students signing up for education, graphic arts and psychology programs as well as liberal arts, noted President Martin J. Anisman.

"The college has undertaken increased targeted recruitment focusing on these program areas, among others," he said.

Trocaire College's overall numbers are down some because the school is not offering transportation technology until later this year, but its health-related offerings are strong, said President Paul B. Hurley Jr.

Trocaire's programs in echocardiography and diagnostic medical sonography are both enjoying a 50 percent enrollment increase.

Its licensed practical nursing program is up 45 percent, and its registered nursing program, 13 percent.

At Jamestown Community College, where the numbers are also down slightly, part-time enrollment is up and the full-time-equivalent count matches budget projections. Plus, the school is well above the national retention rate, according to Marilyn Zagora, dean of student development and marketing.

St. Bonaventure is "down just 2 percent on full-time-equivalent students -- which is actually a better reflection of actual enrollment," said Jon Boeckenstedt, vice president for enrollment.

Alfred University has the highest local tuition -- with rates that are according to class. Freshmen pay $18,498; sophomores, $19,414; juniors, $20,376; and seniors, $21,384.

In-state students in the New York State College of Ceramics at Alfred University pay $9,782.

SUNY tuition remains $3,400 for undergraduates in the system's four-year institutions. Trocaire College again has the lowest private-school tuition in the area, $8,260.

e-mail: kbrady@buffnews.com

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