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  • Staff photo by BOB HAMMERSTROM

    College President, Michael Diffily, left, talks about the future of the school as ITT Vice-President of Operations, Rich Zeeman looks on during The Telegraph editorial board meeting at Daniel Webster College Wednesday, June 27, 2012.
  • Staff photo by BOB HAMMERSTROM

    College President, Michael Diffily talks about the future of the school during The Telegraph editorial board meeting at Daniel Webster College Wednesday, June 27, 2012.
  • Staff photo by BOB HAMMERSTROM

    ITT Vice-President of Operations, Rich Zeeman looks on during The Telegraph editorial board meeting at Daniel Webster College Wednesday, June 27, 2012.
Thursday, June 28, 2012

DWC took enrollment hit after sale to ITT, elimination of flight program

Daniel Webster College’s change to for-profit status did not come without issues, as enrollment took a significant drop after the college sold to ITT Educational Services and dropped its flight operations program.

During an interview with The Telegraph editorial board Wednesday, President Michael Diffily said there are about 650 students enrolled at Daniel Webster, a student body that is nearly half the 1,000 to 1,200 students the college has served in past years.

A large portion of the college’s enrollment drop came as a result of the end of its flight operations program soon after the sale to ITT in 2009. Diffily said this program typically enrolled between 150 and 200 students each year, many of whom were out-of-state students.

That out-of-state population has declined, with the majority of Daniel Webster students coming from New Hampshire and Massachusetts, and other New England states.

Without the flight operations program, Diffily said, the school will need to find other ways to attract students from a wider region.

“We’ll change that mix again,” he said. “It’s a matter of getting that new brand out there. We want to make it clear that the flight operations program is historic for us now, we’re moving forward.”

The Daniel Webster College of the future, Diffily said, will offer a focus on engineering degree programs, a breadth of online offerings to students from around the country, and an increase in enrollment at the Nashua campus and potential satellite campuses along the East Coast.

The college’s for-profit status – a fairly recent change after the private college was sold to ITT in 2009 – will help make these goals possible, school officials said.

Diffily and Richard Zeeman, ITT Educational Services vice president of operations, laid out a vision of their plans for the college during the interview at the college in Nashua.

“I consider us to be a young college all over again,” Diffily said. “Our identity has been taken away from us, so we’ve had to reinvent ourselves. We’re rallied from previous difficult times and we’re doing it now.”

A key component in the rally, Diffily said, will be Daniel Webster’s new online degree programs, which currently offer undergraduate degrees in business administration and a graduate degree in management.

The first session of classes, which began just last week, is currently open only to ITT and Daniel Webster employees. About 200 of them signed up for the courses, and Diffily said they will provide feedback and help work out any bugs before the public is able to enroll.

Diffily hopes to have about 300 students enrolled in online degree programs by its second year.

Zeeman said ITT is excited about the programs and the chance they give the college to expand to a national market.

“We’re prepared to provide the resources ready to see those (goals) fulfilled,” he said.

The addition of online degrees has not only added additional teaching positions to the college – 30 were added already, with another 30 expected in the next few months – it will also help attract students from around the country to Daniel Webster’s programs and, potentially, to the campus itself, Diffily said.

“Our plan is for slow growth at a pace that won’t sap the resources of the college,” he said. “We want to build enrollment back to what it used to be.”

Focusing on developing the school’s engineering programs, what Diffily said he hopes to “hang the school’s hat on,” and ensuring graduating students have access to gainful employment will be a big part of bringing back out-of-state students.

The school already offers a few engineering programs, but he said he wants to add more and one day expand to a master’s degree or PhD engineering program.

These and other professionally oriented programs, Diffily said, will give students the employment they need to be able to pay off their student loans.

The issue of students’ ability to repay their loans has been discussed often in recent months among government officials.

Just this week, the U.S. Department of Education released data showing that for-profit institutions were among the worst in preparing their students for jobs that would allow them to repay debts.

The data ties into gainful employment regulations put in place by the Obama administration last year to crack down on career-training programs that can leave students with large debts and little earning potential.

But Diffily and Zeeman said Wednesday that Daniel Webster students have long had strong records of loan repayments and that the college’s for-profit status will not change that.

The maximum federal loan debt a student would leave the school with is about $30,000, Diffily said, and typically, only about 5 percent of Daniel Webster students default on their loans.

“Our programs are the type of programs that would lead to gainful employment,” he said. “We don’t want our students learning here without the ability for gainful employment.”

Diffily hopes the overall vision for the college will only help increase graduates’ ability to repay their debts and find sustainable employment.

It was Daniel Webster’s own ability to repay its $23 million debt with the help of ITT’s $35 million investment in the college that has allowed the institution to move forward and plan for the future.

And it’s a continued investment from the parent company that Diffily and Zeeman said will help keep Daniel Webster strong while public institutions struggle with funding.

Danielle Curtis can be reached at 594-6557 or Also follow Curtis on Twitter (Telegraph_DC).