Capital District Regional Planning Commission Executive Director Mark Castiglione said the demographic trends for the Capital Region tell a simple story — without more children being born, enrollment numbers at local colleges are going to continue to decline.
“How do we produce more young people? More people need to produce more young people,” Castiglione said. “The birth rates would need to go up, and that would have a cascading effect on future generations.”
Castiglione said he expects the age demographic data from the 2020 census to be released soon, possibly today, and he anticipates the numbers will probably continue to show what the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Surveys have shown in recent years — the younger generation of college aged students is simply smaller than their parent’s generation.
“The baby boomer generation was a large generation, and the subsequent generations are smaller,” Castiglione said. “We know that over the course of time average family household size has been declining, birthrates have been declining, and that kind of paints the picture of the subsequent generations being a little bit smaller.”
Castiglione’s observations about the local demographic trends were supported on Tuesday when the “SUNY 10-year Enrollment Trend Report” was unveiled at the State University of New York’s Board of Trustees meeting. The report showed the 64-campus system’s official enrollment figures from 2011 to 2020 and preliminary figures for fall 2021.
From 2011 to 2020, student enrollment at SUNY has declined by 19.7%, a total loss of 92,386 students since 2011.
A campus-by-campus-breakdown shows losses at local SUNY colleges have been worse over the past ten years, with the exception of UAlbany, which has flat enrollment of about 17,200 just about every year, give or take a few hundred students.
At SUNY Cobleskill there has been a 27.3% decline in student enrollment since 2011 when the school had 2,516 students enrolled. Preliminary numbers for fall 2021 show 1,829 students enrolled, 250 fewer students than the 2,079 students enrolled for fall 2020.
Preliminary enrollment figures for fall 2021 at SUNY Schenectady show 3,995 students, a decline of about 20 students –or 0.5% — from fall 2020, but down a whopping 40.7% — a loss of 2,764 students — from 2011 when the college had 6,759.
SUNY Schenectady is one of eight SUNY community colleges with a 10-year change indicating a drop of at least 40% and one of 18 schools with a 10-year change indicating a drop of at least 30%.
SCCC officials Wednesday pointed out the enrollment data has certainly been affected by the coronavirus pandemic.
“The report does not include that this fall the college experienced an 11.49% (54 students) increase in full-time first time/transfer students and a 28.44% (64 students) increase in part-time first time/transfer students,” reads a written response from SCCC. “With ‘College in the High School’ enrollments still coming in, the final enrollment figure is likely to be at the very least flat [for fall 2021]. This is notable in the COVID period for any college.”
Preliminary enrollment at Fulton-Montgomery Community College shows a similar decline to SUNY Schenectady. FMCC’s preliminary fall 2021 enrollment figures show 1,678 students enrolled, a drop of 13.8% since fall 2020 when there were 1,946 students. FMCC’s enrollment is down 41% since 2011 when there were 2,842 students enrolled.
Another factor in the decline of students at those two community colleges may be fewer international students since a crackdown on international student visas issued under President Donald Trump’s administration. According to the U.S. Dept. of State there were 644,233 F-1 student visas issued in 2015, 471,728 F-1 student visas issued in 2016, 393,573 F-1 student visas issued in 2017 and 362,929 F-1 student visas issued in 2018. The rapid decline came at the same time as other Trump administration executive orders that restricted American company’s use of H-1B skilled laborer visas, making employment in the U.S. less likely for any foreign students studying here.
FMCC in 2016 had the highest concentration of international student enrollment among all of New York state’s community colleges at 5.8%, reaching a high of approximately 160 students, but By the 2020-21 school year FMCC’s foreign visa students had shrunk to 47, and since those foreign students paid double-tution the decline cost the college at least $1.3 million in annual tuition revenue and hundreds of thousands of dollars in rent at the dorm halls owned by it’s nonprofit arm the Fulmont College Association. The FCA has since been attempting to sell those dormitory buildings because it lacks enough students to provide the rent needed for debt payments the $11.3 million loaned to the entity in 2011 by the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture.
Castiglione said international immigration was the only reason the 2020 Census data released earlier this year showed the Capital Region was the only region in upstate New York to see a modest population increase over the last ten years.
“We also experienced some domestic out-migration, so were it not for international migration into the region our region probably would not have grown,” Castiglione said.
Another factor that may further curb enrollment at SUNY campuses for 2021 is New York state’s vaccine mandate for students, which went into effect this week. Students who can’t show proof of vaccination against COVID-19 are being de-registered throughout the region.
At the SUNY Board of Trustee meeting Tuesday the trustees discussed a $1.2 million social media marketing campaign aimed at reversing the declining enrollment trend and emphasizing the advantages of the relatively low cost of SUNY tuition, as seen by statistics that show 50% of SUNY graduates have no outstanding student debt when they graduate.