St. Bonaventure University Provost Joseph Zimmer likes to say that if the university had been founded by nuns instead of friars, it would have had a nursing school since its beginnings. Catholic nuns, of course, were once the bedrock of health care delivery and education in Western New York.
Now, in turbulent times for higher education, those colleges and universities with nursing or other health-related programs have been the most insulated from enrollment declines. That’s because students can picture job opportunities in an expanding health care industry at the end of their studies.
St. Bonaventure historically did not offer programs specifically in the health disciplines, aside from its pre-med curriculum, and Zimmer said the university was losing out on potential students because of the void. But that is starting to change. Two of the university’s newest degree programs are health related: Health Science debuted last August and Health & Society will launch this year.
The university also has plans for graduate programs in occupational therapy, physician’s assistant and nursing and has launched searches for faculty to lead those programs in a newly established School of Health Professions.
They’re among dozens of academic additions and other curricular changes being developed or introduced at area colleges and universities.
Many of the newest degree programs reflect the influence of broad social and economic trends, including a growing business and government reliance on big data and the increasing threat of digital information security breaches.
Canisius College, for example, will offer a new master’s degree in data analytics beginning this fall. The program melds the disciplines of statistics, computer science and business so that students will learn how to apply a range of computational and statistical methods to very large data sets, while also gaining a broad understanding of statistical reasoning and flexible computational skills, such as proficiency in a general purpose programming language.
Niagara University also introduced a master’s degree last fall in information security and digital forensics that focuses on network security, ethical hacking, data privacy and modern cryptography. University officials say the program will give graduates the skills and knowledge they need to get a certified information systems security management professional credential, a requirement for some jobs in government and business.
In addition, St. Bonaventure and Hilbert College started a bachelor’s degree program in cybersecurity in 2016. The schools share faculty resources, and students and faculty don’t have to travel between campuses because shared courses use distance-learning technology.
St. Bonaventure is banking on health-related disciplines to draw more students in the future.
The university suffered the area’s steepest enrollment decline between 2007 and 2017, even as other colleges in the region with a history of providing health-related programs experienced healthy enrollment growth. D’Youville College, for example, increased its student body size by nearly 1,200 students over that decade, thanks to a variety of programs in the health professions.
The St. Bonaventure board of trustees in 2016 approved a strategic plan that included the creation of a new School of Health Professions, with potential programs in occupational and physical therapy. They then hired new President Dennis DePerro, who had helped to build LeMoyne College’s School of Professional Studies as inaugural dean of the school, which specializes in allied health.
The university has had a lot of success preparing undergraduate students for medical school, but some students start out in pre-med and realize it might not be for them, said Zimmer. The university was looking to offer other options in health fields.
“Health Science is our first foray into that,” he said. The program attracted 17 incoming students and 12 continuing students who transferred from other majors – a huge success given that state Education Department approval for the program happened last February and the university had little time to market it, said Zimmer.
“It seems as though we hit a nerve,” he said.
University officials hope to see many of the health science majors move on to one of the graduate programs in the works for the School of Health Professions.
Health & Society and another major, Behavioral Neuroscience, also were approved by the state Education Department in 2017, but not in time for a fall start, so the university will launch those programs later this year.