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SUNY Potsdam believes it will boost graduate student numbers

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POTSDAM — After suffering a budget shortfall this school year because of declining graduate enrollment, SUNY Potsdam officials are confident they will right the ship.

College President John F. Schwaller sounded an optimistic tone at Friday’s College Council meeting.

“On graduate students, we’re having our best spring in three years,” he said. “Right now our graduate applications are trending up.”

In the fall, Mr. Schwaller told the council that graduate enrollment had dropped by 50 students, causing a $600,000 deficit. College Council members were concerned the decline could cost the school even more funding as the SUNY system implements a new budget model to allocate state funds among its campuses.

In just five months, the school appears to be reversing that trend, Mr. Schwaller said.

“We have really amped up in areas of recruitment and organizing,” he said.

Mr. Schwaller outlined some ways the university is improving its graduate recruitment efforts.

“We’re taking a multifaceted approach,” he said, explaining that SUNY Potsdam is engaged in more aggressive marketing efforts and has increased its recruitment efforts in Canada and enhanced its master’s degree offerings in Watertown.

In addition, the school has hired two full-time graduate admissions counselors

Newly hired Director of Graduate Studies Joshua J. LaFave, a Norwood native, said the reversal is as much about improving student experiences as it is getting them on campus.

“Enrollment management in general is from beginning to end,” he said. “By improving services for the student experience and keeping them engaged with alumni, you create a reciprocal life span.”

That life span not only retains the graduate students already enrolled, but attracts legacy students, Mr. LaFave said.

“Graduate students are working professionals, adult learners; their needs are different,” he said. “The office has to be able to support every student every step of the way.”

Mr. LaFave, who graduated from SUNY Potsdam in 2003, said the most important component is improving communication among his office, the school’s almost 300 graduate students and the rest of the campus, and preparing graduate students for their careers.

SUNY Potsdam also is attempting to expand its graduate degree offerings. It now offers 15 graduate programs, most related to education. The school is looking into business and community health programs.

“We hope, within a year, to have some of these new programs online,” Mr. Schwaller said.

Mr. LaFave said the school will expand to meet the needs of the surrounding community.

“I have seen opportunities that we could seize by diversifying our offerings and designing programs that meet the needs of the industry they will serve, whether it is in community health or in business,” he said. “Folks are looking at which programs are needed to serve our area that match with the strength that SUNY Potsdam has a as a campus.”

Provost Margaret E. Madden said officials at SUNY Central and the state Education Department will have to approve any additional graduate programs.

“Depending on the type of program, it can be even more complicated,” she said. “It can take several years to get something through.”

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