They’re baaaaack. More of them than ever, almost: nearly 1,150 first-year students and more than 900 transfer students, who were welcomed to the SUNY New Paltz campus on Moving-In Day last Thursday. According to university officials, that makes this one of the largest incoming undergraduate classes in the college’s history. Returning students arrived over the weekend, with classes scheduled to begin on Monday, August 28.
More than 16,600 hopefuls submitted applications for those 2,050-or-so slots. “With highly competitive admissions standards, New Paltz’s entering class of first-year and transfer students is composed of individuals who have demonstrated strong academic achievement,” said vice president for enrollment management L. David Eaton. “This incoming class is noteworthy not only because of its size and academic caliber, but also because it is the most diverse class in the college’s history. These attributes help fuel a rich intellectual climate.”
The first-year class consists about 40 percent from historically underrepresented groups, according to the college’s press office. While the institution has a proactive outreach program targeting prospective minority students, SUNY New Paltz president Donald P. Christian credited several additional reasons contributing to the increase in diversity of the student body. “The Hudson Valley is becoming more and more diverse, and our transfer student body is mostly from the Hudson Valley,” he noted. “New Paltz’s reputation for being a welcoming, inclusive environment is a factor as well.”
New to the mix this semester is the New York State’s Excelsior Scholarship Program announced by governor Andrew Cuomo this past spring. Providing “last-dollar” state funding to bridge the gap between existing federal and state tuition assistance awards and the actual cost of tuition, the new initiative will effectively make a SUNY or CUNY education tuition-free for all full-time undergraduate students whose annual family incomes fall below the $100,000 level. Dr. Christian told the New Paltz Times that “roughly 1,200 applicants” among the students matriculating at the college this fall are currently being screened for eligibility for Excelsior Scholarship support by the Higher Education Services Corporation.
While this new funding source brings a college degree within reach of more New Yorkers, Christian sees several factors figuring into New Paltz’s ever-growing popularity among the many choices of SUNY campuses. “Our newly renovated facilities are really appealing,” he said, citing such recent capital projects as the Science Hall that opened in the spring, the expansion this summer of the Speech, Language and Hearing Center and the gut renovation of the Bevier Hall dormitory, which is just getting its finishing touches as students move in.
But the college president seems most excited about the Engineering Innovation Hub, set for groundbreaking in September thanks to a $10 million NYSUNY2020 economic development grant. It will serve as the new home of the Hudson Valley Advanced Manufacturing Center and also make it possible for the college to offer a new Bachelor of Science program in Mechanical Engineering. “We talked with businesses and industries in the region and heard about the need for more mechanical engineers,” said Dr. Christian. He went on to note with pride that the small pilot program offered in the 2016/17 school year had “graduated six in May, and all six were hired immediately: four of them to jobs in the Hudson Valley and two in other parts of New York.” “As of fall 2017, there are about 150 students enrolled in Mechanical Engineering at SUNY New Paltz,” said college spokesperson Chrissie Williams.
In addition to providing a home for expanded educational offerings at the college, the 20,000-square-foot facility will house state-of-the-art equipment to support the Engineering Program and the work of companies partnering with SUNY New Paltz through its 3-D printing program. “There are a lot of startup manufacturing companies with whom we’ve had conversations, with an interest in locating here. But nearby space has been one of the barriers,” Christian explained. The Engineering Innovation Hub is on track to open in 2019.
At Esopus Hall, one of those incoming Mechanical Engineering majors was to be found hauling his gear into the dorm on Moving-In Day: 17-year-old freshman Bennett Terrill, from Forest Hills in Queens. But if the new program doesn’t prove a good fit, Terrill said, he’ll likely fall back on his love for the guitar, noting that a “good music program” had been part of SUNY New Paltz’s appeal for him. “I also wanted a good community,” he told the New Paltz Times, “somewhere where I can breathe while I study. I’m looking forward to hiking in the mountains.”
Asked why she chose New Paltz, another 17-year-old freshman, Sylvia Thompson of Hunt, a tiny hamlet near Rochester, recalled that when she toured the campus, “Everyone seemed really friendly here. Even the people moving in all said hello. And it had the program I wanted.” Thompson plans to major in Biochemistry. “It offers a good balance: an artsy school that’s academically strong.”