Freshmen enrollment continues to decline

By Joe Pinter, @JPinter93

(First in a series on Bonaventure’s enrollment)

A new major.

A renovated building.

There has been a lot of talk around St. Bonaventure University the last few years about the exciting possibilities within the Russell J. Jandoli School of Journalism & Mass Communication. But if the enrollment trends don’t reverse, the administration may have to start looking at ways to raise enrollment numbers before it thinks about building projects.

But still, in some ways, Bonaventure is better off than other area private schools.

The current year’s enrollment in the journalism & mass communication school stands at 291, down slightly from last year.

But keep in mind that the journalism school (the biggest individual major at Bonaventure) in the late 1990s had 331 students, university officials said.

While Bonaventure had one of its biggest classes ever in 2008, with 565 incoming freshmen, the numbers have slightly dropped nearly every year since to under 500 students. The total number of undergraduates has fallen to around 1,700, university officials said.

The loss of students has become such a problem that Residence Life had to block off 200 beds in Francis and Falconio Halls to make sure that the dorms being used have more rooms with students living in them than vacant rooms. The maximum capacity in on-campus housing is 1,664. Currently, only 1,390 students live on-campus (83 percent full), university officials said.

In August 2007, the journalism school had 92 incoming freshman students. Since then, the yearly numbers have been 73, 74, 48, 58, 60, and it now sits at 52 students (includes strategic communication students.) The overall incoming freshman class has fallen from 527 in 2007 to 438 currently, university officials said.

The loss of journalism majors may lead people to believe it’s because of the new strategic communication & digital media major.

Not quite, said dean Pauline Hoffman.

“We thought (the new major) would have more to do with the losses in the J/MC major, with a lot of students coming in and not going into J/MC,” said Hoffmann. “But what we’re finding is that most folks are coming from marketing to strategic communication because they are similar. We don’t have a lot of folks changing from J/MC.”

Bonaventure currently has 41 strategic communication majors within the journalism school. Hoffmann said the administration had expected 40.

Hoffmann said not many students transfer out of the journalism school; only “a handful a year.”

Since the business school has since moved into the new Swan Business Center, half of Murphy Professional Building has been vacant since July. Hoffmann hopes to renovate the building for use by the journalism school.

Besides the renovations, Hoffmann hopes to eventually have in place film and/or sports broadcasting as its own major with the journalism school. The curriculum in the school has already undergone a serious makeover; with more concentration being on the changing world of communications.

Hoffmann thinks both those changes will help with future recruitment.

It’s not all gloomy over in Murphy, however.

The Integrated Marketing Communications program is extremely successful, she said. The program has existed at the Buffalo Center in Hamburg, N.Y. for over a decade, but is only a few years old in St. Bonaventure, N.Y.

The program is such a success that both locations and the online class are all at or even over their individual capacity of 20 students, Hoffmann said.

Bonaventure isn’t the only area school with declining enrollments.

Actually, the New York and Pennsylvania area has the highest concentration of higher education institutions in the world, making it one of the most competitive markets for students. (And consider the fact that New York, where about 70 percent of Bonaventure’s students come from, has lost 2.7 million students since the 2008-09 school year), university officials said.

Some area private schools are in serious trouble.

Canisius College has been running record budget deficits almost every year since the financial crisis of 2008 and going through inter-managerial conflicts the past few years.

The Jesuit school in Buffalo, N.Y. currently has 3,084 undergraduates, which is down from 3,280 last year. The incoming freshman class has lost over 100 students in 10 years, and currently has around 700 students, according to documents obtained from Canisius’ academic website.

Yet surprisingly, Niagara University, which just recently named a new university president, has seen enrollment stay somewhat steady; even increasing a few times since the financial crisis. The school currently has 698 freshmen — up from 641 in 2012– and around 3,000 total undergraduates.

While Canadian students make up only roughly two to six percent of Canisius’ and Bonaventure’s student body, 18 percent of Niagara’s enrollment comes from Canada, which may partially explain why the school so close to the border hasn’t been hurt as much.

Part of the solution, according to Bonaventure officials, is to recruit harder from other countries and other parts of the United States where populations aren’t falling.

But these declining enrollments in most area schools is just one of the reasons Bonaventure and Hilbert College, located in Hamburg, N.Y. are conducting a feasibility study on more collaboration between the two schools.

For a school that has in the past been considered by national outlets as one of the better journalism schools in the country, and additionally lists five Pulitzer Prize winners among its alumni, the drop in enrollment may be hard to take.

Better recruitment is a step in the right direction toward stopping the trend, Hoffmann said. She realizes that if students don’t enjoy their college visits then they will most likely choose somewhere else.

“We’re trying to think of ways to make (the open houses) more interactive so students don’t come here and listen to you talk and listen to me talk,” she said. “They could care less what I have to say. We’re trying to make it easier for students to interact with other students, with faculty, and so on. “

Hoffmann hopes to incorporate everything Bonaventure has to offer to its journalism students, from the Koop Lab to the TV truck to the several student-run media outlets on campus.

“I was just talking to somebody about (the decline in enrollment),” Hoffmann said. “How can I make the change? And I think with some of the changes we’ve made to the curriculum and with the change to some of our learning initiatives that will change. I don’t think we’ll have too much trouble increasing those numbers.”

That may be true. But what if Bonaventure’s main student pool in Western New York and western Pennsylvania continues to shrink?

(Next up: the School of Business)


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