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Editorial: D'Youville's ambitious expansion plan

D’Youville College, facing the same forces that are pressuring all its peers around Western New York, has announced a creative plan to increase its enrollment dramatically while providing Buffalo’s underserved West Side with critically needed health care. It looks like a winner that will strengthen the college, create more medical professionals and fill a yawning gap in community health care.

Facing enrollment declines and the new Excelsior program that provides free tuition to students of the state university system, many private colleges here and around the state are in a bind. They are looking for ways to respond. Canisius College, for example, is reducing tuition by 23 percent, lowering the rate to its 2008-09 level.

D’Youville is taking a different approach, not in response to the Excelsior program, college leaders say, but to the general need to secure its place and serve the needs of students and the city. Its plan is to build a three-story, 46,000-square-foot “health professions hub” on what is now a college parking lot at Connecticut Street and West Avenue.

The $20 million facility will be used to train health care professionals while also providing clinical care in the community. That care is needed. Residents of the West Side suffer from chronic diseases such as asthma, diabetes and coronary heart disease at rates higher than the city’s as a whole or the state’s. In addition, the state Labor Department estimates that the Buffalo area will need 10,000 more health professionals within seven years. D’Youville wants to help produce them.

The college’s health-related programs include occupational therapy, physician assistant, dietetics, nursing, family nurse practitioner, chiropractic, physical therapy and pharmacy. The planned health professions hub would be the first clinic in the country to include all of the health professions under one roof working jointly to serve patients. And the curriculum is readily transferrable to other upstate cities, which face similar health issues, college President Lorrie Clemo told the News editorial board.

The plan envisions a clinic on the ground floor, classrooms and conference space on the second floor, a third-floor “virtual training center” and a two-story, 200-seat amphitheater. To make it work, the college is hoping to raise $10 million from foundations and private donors and to secure another $10 million in state aid to get the project started.

It already has the support of Assemblyman Sean Ryan, D-Buffalo, who noted that “the West Side is a neighborhood of high medical need” and that the project falls into ”the sweet spot of our economic development plan.”

The college, which numbers about 3,000 undergraduate and graduate students, plans to grow as part of its vision. It expects to increase those numbers by a startling and ambitious 25 percent, with more than half the increase produced by students working online. Nevertheless, it foresees its on-campus student population increasing by about 250 students.

To serve that increase, D’Youville wants to hire more faculty and staff. It also plans to provide training for hospitals and health care firms from outside Western New York.

At least in its outlines, this looks like a program well deserving of support. Whether it can truly increase student enrollment by 25 percent in a trying time for private colleges will be a test, as will its contention that it can do so without taking away from other private colleges here.

But it’s a creative plan that helps to secure a valuable institution even as it capitalizes on the Buffalo area’s significant health care needs, serving the interests of students and the surrounding community. Assuming the money can be made available, this plan stands to strengthen Buffalo in a number of useful ways.

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