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SUNY Potsdam’s shrinking graduate enrollment leaves budget gap

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POTSDAM — Fewer graduate students are enrolling at SUNY Potsdam, and it is costing the university thousands of dollars.

When John F. Schwaller, SUNY Potsdam president, addressed the college council last month, he told them graduate enrollment had dropped by 50 students this school year, causing a $600,000 deficit.

“We have experienced a significant decline in the number of graduate students, and that has brought our budget into imbalance,” he said.

The dearth of graduate students could be more severe if the SUNY system adopts a proposed re-allocation of their state budget allotment, which would place more emphasis on graduate programs, said Peter S. Brouwer, dean of the School of Education and Professional Studies and Graduate Studies at SUNY Potsdam.

“It is very much an enrollment driven funding level,” said Mr. Brouwer. “It is really slanted toward funding graduate programs at the four doctoral centers. That is just another reason that we need more.”

The recent drop in graduate students is part of a longer decline, said Mr. Brouwer, who said the school lost around 200 masters degree-seekers since 2012.

Mr. Brouwer attributes the decline to a lower interest in education majors. Most of SUNY Potsdam’s graduate programs center around education.

“Most of our graduate programs are in the field of education, and the opportunities in the field are difficult because all of the schools are cutting back on teaching positions,” he said. “SUNY Potsdam has most of their eggs in one basket.”

Education budget reductions, particularly in New York state where the majority of SUNY Potsdam students come from, have led to a reduction in the number of teaching positions open to graduates, said Mr. Brouwer.

“The economic situation in New York, with the property tax-cap in the schools and the fact that a lot of the school budgets are shrinking, they have actually had to lay-off teachers,” he said. “There are few openings for new teachers, and when there are openings, there are a lot of experienced teachers in the applicant pool. A lot of our graduates end up subbing for a year or two before they can get a full time.”

While fewer students are trying to earn their education certifications, more are seeking specialty education certifications, said Mr. Brouwer.

“We have seen an upturn in our programs that are adding an additional certification, like special education and literacy,” he said. “That is going to make them more employable.

Mr. Brouwer described a two-pronged approach to increasing graduate student numbers, starting with recruitment.

“We are going to redouble our admissions and recruiting efforts at the graduate level,” he said. “It has sort of been a wake-up call for us, of course it has been a problem, but it hadn’t really become a problem until the new budget model came out.”

SUNY Potsdam may offer more graduate services in the future, said Mr. Brouwer.

“We’re exploring development in other areas, business programs like finance and administration, an anthropology masters program, a masters in public health,” he said. “We’ve got quite a few irons in the fire to develop our portfolio of offerings.”

Mr. Brouwer predicted that school districts will begin hiring teachers again in the near future.

“It is cyclical, the demographics project that in 2017 we are going to have a need for teachers again,” he said. “A freshman going into the program today would be ideally positioned. I think we’re at the low point now, but it is going to swing back because there a re a lot of retirements coming up in the public school system. That means roughly 5-6 years there is all the sudden going to be a teacher shortage.”

SUNY Potsdam is counting on the number of graduate students to increase in the coming years, said Mr. Brouwer.

“We are working on an enrollment model, and we’re building it around the proposed SUNY budget model,” he said. “We are projecting right now that we are at the low point this year and in 5 years we’ll go up the couple-hundred students that we lost because we’ll have additional programs to work with.”

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