Morrisville Troubles Draw Concern From Community
Published: March 29th, 2012
By: Melissa deCordova

NORWICH – The former campaign manager who successfully raised $1 million to build the Norwich branch of Morrisville State College said Monday he was extremely disappointed to learn that the educational institution might be in trouble.

The fact that enrollment is down by 100 students and the dean has been directed to create community-funded curriculum over the next 30 days to attract future students isn’t sitting well with William H. Smith Jr. The retired Smith Ford dealer and New York businessman said he led a committee that tapped into trusts such as the Roger W. Follett Foundation and the Greater Norwich Foundation, and also from private individuals.

“Go look at all of the names on the walls and on the classrooms down there. We really cared about having Morrisville become part of our community; that’s why we built the building here. That the college and state are not supportive of our campus is really disappointing,” he said.

Specifically, fundraisers cumulated $250,000 from the Follett Foundation, $100,000 for the college’s lobby and $25,000 for a classroom in memory of Agatino J. Natoli from the Greater Norwich Foundation, and $25,000 from retired Norwich businessman Jim Dunne in memory of his father. Dunne has served on the Morrisville College Council for the past 10 years.

There were just 360 students on the attendance roster this semester, compared to 460 last year. The county had projected an enrollment of 1,000 when the Norwich campus opened its doors back in 2006.

The college’s Officer in Charge, Dr. B. Wolfe Yeigh, has directed Campus Dean Marsha Cornelius to look at providing college credit courses to Norwich High School students and to engage business leaders to use the campus for their licensing or training programs. She has been asked to report back in April. Cornelius has said she is confident about Morrisville’s future in Norwich.

Yeigh is in charge of both SUNY Morrisville and SUNY Institute of Technology in Utica. He was appointed last summer to assume the responsibilities held by former Morrisville State College Dean Raymond Cross, who stepped down Dec. 31, 2010 after 13 years. Members of Smith’s campaign committee asked whether it’s possible for one officer to be in charge of two campuses. Some have said Yeigh’s primary concern is SUNY IT, instead of Morrisville, since he held that post first.

Dunne pointed out that the college recently stopped requesting scholarship funding. “For many years, the Greater Norwich Foundation provided $10,000 to the college for scholarships for Norwich students, but the college stopped requesting it a couple of years ago,” he said.

Commerce Chenango President Steve Craig, who attended a meeting with Yeigh, pointed out that enrollment is indeed declining at state universities across New York because of the rising cost of tuition and fewer traditional-aged students going to college. Though it varies by campus, New York State universities have lost approximately 30 to 35 percent of their annual operating budgets over the past few years.

“It’s a function of demographics; you just don’t have the bodies anymore,” he said, suggesting that the Norwich branch might consider reaching out to adult students instead.

“There are two ways to look at this,” Craig said, regarding Yeigh’s directive. “He could have come to town and said everything’s great. At least he didn’t just paint a rosey picture. Is that bad news or the impetus we need to sustain it?”

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