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Another Voice: Enrollment remains strong at WNY’s private colleges

By Dr. Gary A. Olson

A recent report in The Buffalo News accurately describes the challenges colleges and universities nationwide are facing as the percentage of college-enrolled high school graduates continues to decline and a greater number of young people opt to enter the workforce rather than attend college.

All in all, private institutions in the Western New York region, including Daemen College, have adapted in positive ways to attract high school graduates and to provide them top-quality, affordable educational opportunities that will make a vast difference in their future. Simply put, there is good news and progress has been made to address this trend.

New York State is fortunate to have more than 100 independent colleges and universities, which offer students a wealth of choices in college-level education. In fact, the state has the largest private higher education sector in the country.

According to the Commission on Independent Colleges and Universities, total enrollment in the state’s private colleges and universities has increased steadily over the past decade, gaining 11 percent since 2003.

What’s more, the independent sector in the state awards 52 percent of bachelor’s degrees, 71 percent of master’s degrees and 80 percent of doctoral and professional degrees.

In Western New York, more than 29,000 students are enrolled at independent campuses, which contribute $1.3 billion annually to the state’s economy and directly employ 6,100 individuals. Overall, the independent sector’s total enrollment in the region grew by 4.4 percent from 2003-13.

Private institutions across Western New York are taking action to address enrollment challenges. Daemen is working strategically to attract new students to enhance its already healthy enrollment base. College leaders, faculty and staff have developed short- and long-term approaches to recruit and retain students, resulting in a steady, measured enrollment growth.

Over the past decade, Daemen’s total full-time equivalent enrollment has increased by 27 percent. With a conservative approach to spending, Daemen’s stable enrollment has kept pace with its growth in educational offerings, targeted programming, campus improvements, student outreach efforts and involvement in the community.

Its strength is in making a college education a viable option for all kinds of students, including new high school graduates, veterans, working professionals and students with families.

Amid a trend of declining enrollment across the United States, Western New York private colleges and universities are well-positioned to boost enrollment and graduation rates. Ultimately, the efforts of Daemen and the area’s other private institutions will benefit students, the workforce and the community.

Dr. Gary A. Olson is president of Daemen College in Amherst.