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Canisius College explores the Catholic role in higher education

Mike Desmond/WBFO

With American higher education changing rapidly, Canisius College is using its 150th anniversary to examine the role played by Catholic universities. Three presidents from major Jesuit universities will speak during the course of the academic year. Opening the series this week was Fordham University President Joseph McShane.

McShane, a former teacher at Canisius High School, addressed one of the biggest concerns for parents.

"What is the cost? You say: Well, the sticker prices is this and I hasten to say sticker price might be X, but 90% of my students receive aid," McShane said of the students at Fordham.

"Only 10% pay full and I'm sure that at Canisius I'd be surprised if it's not the same."

Father McShane says Washington needs to increase Pell grants for low-income college students and it would help if Albany spent more money on its array of programs to help students get through college and get their degrees.

To help defray costs, colleges look to former students for donations. Fordham recently completed a fund drive which raised $175 million.

"If you have a strong sense of mission and the mission is widely owned by the alumni and present students, the magnitude of the ask (for donations) is there but you're met by the magnitude of devotion to and I'd say the bonding to the college or university. So, you make it happen."

The leadership at the nation's over 200 Catholic colleges and universities has changed. Religious presidents are giving way to lay people like Canisius President John Hurley, who, McShane says, "has stepped up to the plate magnificently."

McShane gave similar plaudits to the leaders at other local institutions.
"Same with Dennis DePerro, down at St. Bonaventure, and Cynthia Zane, who just retired from Hilbert. And, over at D'Youville, Dr. Clemo," McShane said. 

"All of them bring a great devotion to Catholic education, to the task at hand. So, I think we're going to be OK."

Mike Desmond is one of Western New York’s most experienced reporters, having spent nearly a half-century covering the region for newspapers, television stations and public radio. He has been with WBFO and its predecessor, WNED-AM, since 1988. As a reporter for WBFO, he has covered literally thousands of stories involving education, science, business, the environment and many other issues. Mike has been a long-time theater reviewer for a variety of publications and was formerly a part-time reporter for The New York Times.