Hilbert College, a small Franciscan school in Hamburg, is looking to take a giant leap by attracting more online students, while also growing and diversifying its traditional enrollment.
Since March 2019, the school's board of trustees, staff and alumni have been engaged in planning that, over the next five years, is designed to grow the college's enrollment back to levels of a decade ago – around 1,200 students. They're also aiming to bolster the school's law and justice programs by taking them online to make the courses available to prospective students from across the country.
“In the last year, with support of the board, and with the creativity of the faculty and staff, we put together a plan for the future at Hilbert called 2025,” Hilbert President Michael S. Brophy said last week in a meeting with The Buffalo News editorial board. Kathleen Christy, vice president for institutional advancement, and Matt Heidt, executive director of marketing and communications, also participated in the meeting to share aspects of the plan.
“It lays out what we think is a pretty courageous plan – call it bold, call it what you will – but I think what it is, most importantly, is realistic," Brophy added.
Hilbert, which was founded over 60 years ago to train nuns who went into teaching, sits on a 60-acre campus with nearly a dozen buildings and several athletic fields. The school, which initially offered only associate degrees, went co-ed in the 1960s. It became a baccalaureate college in the early 1990s and started offering graduate degrees in the mid-2000s.
Hilbert offers 17 bachelor's degree programs for its current student body of 800, but its academic cachet comes from its programs in criminal justice, forensic studies and cyber security, said Brophy.
"These are the kind of programs that the country needs," said Brophy.
In addition to ramping up its online programs and its athletic programs to attract more students, Hilbert is making an effort to reach out to attract more students from the City of Buffalo.
"For whatever reason — which I have yet to understand — there’s something about the Skyway and peoples’ thoughts about geography," Brophy said, "but we have made really great inroads with the Buffalo public school system this year."
In addition to working with Buffalo Superintendent Kriner Cash and other school district officials, Brophy said Hilbert is forging a relationship with East High School, which has a law enforcement emphasis as part of its curriculum. Hilbert also is taking the cap off of its enrollment of students in the Say Yes program, which pays the tuition of qualifying city pupils.
Hilbert also became a participant in the State Education Department's Higher Education Opportunity Program, which will give the school more access to financially disadvantaged students from Buffalo, and Buffalo School Board Member Terrance Heard, a Hilbert alumnus, was recently appointed to its board of trustees, Brophy said.
He said Hilbert is no longer endeavoring "to be the best-kept secret of anything."
“We need to do a better job of getting people to the Southtowns and onto our campus, and seeing us as a viable resource for things that go beyond traditional degree programs,” said Brophy.
The basic goal at Hilbert, he added, is to be more relevant in the city and in the Southtowns while taking the school's marquee programs online, strengthening its academic programs, increasing enrollment and bolstering the college's finances.
Targeting online students, Brophy said, is a major way of dealing with the shrinking population of traditional college-age students in Western New York.
“If it’s five years from now and, God willing, we have 400 (new) students, we hope that 300 of them will be online,” he said.
“So we’re being realistic that Western New York has a finite set of students that are college age, traditional college-age students, but we have the whole country and beyond to enroll students from,” Brophy added.