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There are a dozen private colleges within Western New York’s eight counties.

Having multiple options is a good thing for prospective students, but not so much for college recruiters who cast their lines in a population pool that continues to shrink.

Even more troubling, colleges across the country are seeing signs of dropping enrollment, according to a 2012 article by the Hechinger Report, a nonprofit news organization that focuses on education. While the number of high school graduates is down, tuition costs and debt worries appear to play more significant roles in enrollment decline, the report suggests.

“Affordability is a very big issue,” said Patricia R. Brown, vice president of enrollment management at Daemen College in Snyder, where a little more than 90 percent of students receive financial aid.

Daemen’s tuition of $22,620 is a drawing point for recruiting students from outside New York – particularly California, according to Dean of Admissions Frank S. Williams. Other recruiting efforts target several East Coast cities, as well the international market.

Established as a liberal arts college for women in 1947 by the Sisters of St. Francis, it originally was known as Rosary Hill College. The college went co-ed in 1971 and took the name of its founder, Magdalene Daemen, in 1976, when it became independent and nonsectarian.

Daemen has yet to experience a loss of students. Its current enrollment of 2,983 – combining undergraduate and graduate students, full and part time – is the highest in its history, officials say.

What has changed is where those students come from.

“I would say seven years ago, 80 percent would have been Western New Yorkers,” said Brown. “Now it’s closer to 45 percent.”

Currently, approximately 92 percent are from New York; 5 percent from other states; and 3 percent from other countries. Online open houses last fall were “attended” by students from 22 states and six foreign countries, officials said.

“I think, in the United States, all colleges need to be global – not just for the enrollment numbers but for the experience it provides,” said Brown. “We are looking at it for that cultural diversity.”

With a sustained growth in enrollment during the past eight years, Daemen has added several degree programs. It also has completed another capital project, with last October’s opening of the Haberman Gacioch Center for Visual & Performing Arts, a certified Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design building created within the exterior structure of the former Marian Library.

Peak enrollment

Another private institution riding the crest of peak enrollment is D’Youville College in Buffalo, where the current annual tuition is $21,930. In 2011, 100 percent of undergraduate students received financial aid.

Founded as an independent Catholic college by the Grey Nuns of the Sacred Heart in 1908, the college also went co-ed in 1971. It’s named after Saint Marie-Marguerite d’Youville.

The fall enrollment at D’Youville was 3,204. Of that total, approximately 80 percent were New Yorkers, almost 15 percent were international and almost 5 percent hailed from other states.

D’Youville is developing plans to cater to each of its audiences, utilizing traditional communications methods as well as social media, call centers and the school’s website.

“We are also working to further develop the recruitment of international students, creating an international student center that recruits these students and then manages their needs even before they enroll at the college,” said Robert “Butch” Murphy, vice president for student affairs and enrollment management.

D’Youville has added numerous programs and degrees in recent years, and continues to explore opportunities.

“The college has an active program development committee that consistently looks for new program opportunities or the enhancement of existing programs,” Murphy said. “Our nursing program will be launching an online RN to BSN program in the fall of 2013.”

Also coming this fall is a doctoral program in health administration, recently approved by the state, and a master’s degree in curriculum planning and instruction, Murphy said.

The college is considering what to do with the former headquarters of Gateway-Longview on Niagara Street, which it bought last fall. This month, it announced the purchase of 3.5 acres of land from the City of Buffalo, to develop athletic fields in an area bordered by Porter Avenue, Jersey Street, Fourth Street and the Niagara Thruway.

At St. Bonaventure University in Olean, the second-oldest private college in the region, an anticipated drop in enrollment already has been addressed in a five-year plan.

Dedicated in October 1858, the college was created by a group of friars on property donated by a Utica landowner. It’s named after St. Bonaventure of Bagnoregio, the patron of Franciscan studies and learning.

“We have, for some time, been able to anticipate the declines in the regional population,” said Emily Sinsabaugh, vice president of university of relations.

The fall 2012 total enrollment at St. Bonaventure was 2,336 – down from 2,460 the previous year, according to university officials. The peak enrollment of 2,833 was recorded in 1981.

A goal of the five-year plan is an undergraduate enrollment of 2,200 students by 2015, Sinsabaugh said. The fall 2012 undergraduate enrollment was 1,908.

Of those students currently enrolled, between 75 and 78 percent are from New York, between 17 and 20 percent from other states, and between 2 and 4 percent from foreign countries.

Part of the five-year plan is recruiting beyond the traditional areas of Central and Western New York.

One target market is military families overseas, whose children come back to the United States for college. Another is Canada, whose citizens represent half of the property owners in Ellicottville and 50 percent of the membership at the neighboring Holimont Ski Resort, according to Sinsabaugh.

The university is looking to boost graduate student enrollment through online programs. It has state approval to offer a master’s degree program in strategic leadership this fall, in its School of Journalism.

With tuition at $27,762, St. Bonaventure is at the high end of private schools in the region. Officials say that 95 percent of students received some sort of financial aid for the current school year.

“We do tell our families that they can count on our tuition not increasing any more than 3 percent in any given year,” Sinsabaugh said. “Making sure it’s affordable and predictable is a commitment to our families.”

Meanwhile, construction continues on the Swan Business Center, the new home for the university’s School of Business, scheduled to open this fall. An $18.8 million fundraising campaign to upgrade athletics facilities also continues, with substantial progress reported in fundraising for new softball and soccer/lacrosse fields, as well as construction of a new women’s basketball locker room.

Numbers dropping

Enrollment has dipped the past couple of years at Niagara University, the region’s oldest private college. Founded in 1856 by the Vincentian community, the college has a strong Catholic tradition.

The fall 2012 enrollment totaled 4,045, down from the 2010 peak of 4,273.

Currently, 76 percent of undergraduates are from New York. Students from other states comprise 8 percent; Canadian citizens, 15 percent; and other foreign students, 1 percent.

At the graduate level, state residents represent 68 percent of students; other states, 4 percent; Canadian citizens, 27 percent; and other foreign students, 1 percent.

Niagara University’s current annual tuition is $26,100. Approximately 98 percent of all undergraduate students receive financial aid, according to Thomas J. Burns, associate vice president of pubic relations, marketing and communications.

Social media strategies and online advertising are among the new initiatives in the university’s marketing efforts, Burns said.

Like other private colleges, Niagara University continues to increase its offerings.

“Niagara began offering two new nursing programs this academic year,” Burns said. There’s a four-year bachelor of science program in nursing for new freshmen or transfer students without specialized nursing backgrounds, and an accelerated bachelor’s of science, which can be completed within a 12-month period, for those already holding a bachelor’s degree or higher.

“The university continually looks for opportunities to change and grow academic programs across each of its four colleges,” Burns said.

Last April, the university completed its largest capital campaign to date. “The Promise of Niagara ... the next 150 years,” raised more than $82 million, surpassing its goal of $80 million, to support its endowment and capital improvements.

Meanwhile, construction continues on the Town of Lewiston campus at two new facilities, scheduled to open this year: the B. Thomas Golisano Center for Integrated Sciences and the Gacioch Family Alumni and Admissions Center, in a former staff residence known as Meade Hall.

Canisius goes global

Canisius College in Buffalo is another Western New York school that’s going global in its effort to recruit new students and diversify its campus.

In recent years, it has participated in overseas recruiting tours and reported about 90 international students on campus in 2012. There also are plans to partner with another institution to boost the international enrollment.

The total fall 2012 enrollment at Canisius was 4,908, compared with 5,148 a year ago.

A celebration of Canisius College’s 100-year residency on Main Street continues this year.

That Main Street campus continued to grow in 2012, with the formal opening of Science Hall in September. Located within the former HealthNow building, which had been a Sears, Roebuck store until 1980, almost $40 million was spent to renovate the lower and first floors and a similar amount is expected to be spent in coming years to complete the renovation and consolidate all science programs there.

Last year also marked the completion of the college’s “Legacy of Leadership” campaign, the largest fundraising effort in its history.

Approximately $95.5 million was raised, surpassing a $90 million goal. Of that total, roughly $44 million was raised for endowed scholarships and programs, and almost $27 million for the development of Science Hall.

With a current annual tuition of $30,780, Canisius College is the region’s most expensive institution.

email: jhabuda@buffnews.com