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Most Culturally, Geographically Diverse Class Enters SUNY Oswego

SUNY Oswego freshman biology major Vanessa Gonzales is among an incoming student group that is the most diverse in the college's history and with a rising number of STEM majors. "It definitely feels like home," she said.

SUNY Oswego freshman biology major Vanessa Gonzales is among an incoming student group that is the most diverse in the college's history and with a rising number of STEM majors. "It definitely feels like home," she said.

OSWEGO — The most culturally diverse class ever to enter SUNY Oswego also comes to campus from farther outside the region: The class of 2020 includes nearly 300 freshmen from New York City, six from Washington, D.C., and scores of students from 14 other states and 18 countries.

SUNY Oswego freshman biology major Vanessa Gonzales is among an incoming student group that is the most diverse in the college's history and with a rising number of STEM majors. "It definitely feels like home," she said.
SUNY Oswego freshman biology major Vanessa Gonzales is among an incoming student group that is the most diverse in the college’s history and with a rising number of STEM majors. “It definitely feels like home,” she said.

This fall’s enrollment of freshmen from Oswego and its six contiguous counties likely is the smallest ever, estimated at 248 among the 1,445 total freshmen.

“We are enrolling so many more students from father away that we don’t have the commuters we did decades ago,” said Admissions Director Dan Griffin. “So nearly every freshman needs a (residence hall) bed. Unfortunately, we know there are other institutions that have a lot of empty beds. We don’t have that problem here.”

While the fourth consecutive fall of over 1,400 freshmen — and the 705 new transfer students, many needing or opting to live on campus — provides a large clientele to Residence Life and Housing, Griffin said, they represent progress in diversifying the college’s draw geographically as well as racially, ethnically and culturally.

This semester, SUNY Oswego welcomed the largest percentage of culturally diverse students ever, at 33.8 percent (including 486 of this fall's freshmen), which brings the overall percentage of culturally diverse students to 25.8 percent of the student body.
This semester, SUNY Oswego welcomed the largest percentage of culturally diverse students ever, at 33.8 percent (including 486 of this fall’s freshmen), which brings the overall percentage of culturally diverse students to 25.8 percent of the student body.

A record-setting 33.8 percent of the first-year class — up 3.2 percent from last year’s first-year class and an 80 percent increase from 2010 — is culturally diverse, which brings the total undergraduate and graduate population of students who self-identify as Hispanic, Asian, African-American, Native American, Pacific Islander or in more than one category to 25.8 percent of the student body.

“We are seeking continuity in New York and Long Island, but we are also looking into new markets,” Griffin said. “There are a lot of colleges competing for students in New York. We had some success in Washington, D.C., this year, for example.”

The number of available high school graduates has trended down regionally for years, yet Griffin said SUNY Oswego continues to attract a strong base of applicants with potential for college success. The college drew more than 10,700 freshman and 2,250 transfer applications this year.

As planned, the admissions recruitment effort resulted in a total student headcount of about 8,000 college-wide.

“We’re not seeking to grow, we’re seeking to maintain what we consider to be a really healthy enrollment,” Griffin said. “‘Stable’ doesn’t sound very exciting or perhaps noteworthy, but if someone told me a year ago that we’d have 1,440 freshmen, I would have said, ‘Where do I sign?'”

‘I belonged here’

Brooklyn native Mic-anthony Hay, a sociology major with a love of outdoor photography and film, transferred from Dutchess Community College in large part because of location. “It offered many places to explore and activities in the nearby town,” he said. “And most importantly the positive energy you feel when you enter the campus. Everyone here is very happy to be here. I immediately felt like I belonged here.”

Hay has found additional fulfillment in organizations like the Outdoor Club plus recreational athletic activities. “I was amazed at the employment opportunities here at Oswego that offer experience in my main passion,” said Hay, who works with photography and video at Campus Recreation. “I get to practice my workflow and hopefully my future career, all while being a student. It was even more of a beautiful experience than I could have imagined.”

SUNY Oswego continues to draw students from farther away, with 126 international students adding to the college's diversity.
SUNY Oswego continues to draw students from farther away, with 126 international students adding to the college’s diversity.

Vanessa Gonzales, a freshman biology major originally from New Jersey who plans to become a doctor, was happy Oswego provides the major and minor she was interested in, offers a good selection of clubs — some of which she already has joined — and presents a beautiful campus. Oswego was very attentive to her questions and needs throughout the decision process, Gonzales added. “It’s been great,” she said. “It definitely feels like home.”

STEM rising

Gonzalez joins the continuing trend toward increased freshman applications and enrollment in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). The college has boosted first-year enrollment in STEM disciplines from 242 a decade ago to 411 this fall, a 70 percent increase. “Enrollment in STEM will likely be our largest yet among freshmen,” Griffin said.

Griffin points not only to the $118 million Richard S. Shineman Center for Science, Technology and Innovation and its state-of-the-art equipment, but also to the college’s trailblazing efforts to retain students in STEM.

Thanks to a SUNY Investment and Performance Fund grant of $750,000 over four years, the college has expanded the math bridge camp to about 140 first-year students who voluntarily start college a week early to enhance math skills essential to the sciences.

The School of Education saw an uptick of 3 percent in freshmen applicants and 28 percent for transfer applicants. Griffin said he is hopeful enrollment has “leveled off” for undergraduates in education and will perhaps begin to rebound.

Meanwhile, the Office of Admissions is actively recruiting the next incoming group — the class of 2021 and transfers. Fall 2016 open houses started on Oct. 10, the Monday of Columbus Day weekend, and will continue on Saturday, Oct. 29, and Nov. 11, the Friday of Veterans Day weekend.