SCHENECTADY — When classes at SUNY Schenectady begin this fall, the college hopes to welcome a few new faces — all the way from Zambia.
College officials are preparing to welcome a pair of students from the African country to the downtown campus in the coming weeks after forming relationships with six international institutions this summer — the latest steps the college has undertaken to increase its international presence in hopes of bolstering declining enrollment and offering students a more well-rounded education.
“It’s student enrollment and student recruitment, number one,” college president Steady Moono said this past week. “Number two, it’s exposing our students to the world.”
Moono has spent a portion of his summer traveling the globe, visiting campuses in his native Zambia and Indonesia following months of conversations with education officials from both countries on how a partnership with the community college could be mutually beneficial.
The goal, he explained, is to offer international students the opportunity to receive an American education, while giving SUNY Schenectady students the chance to travel to each country during the summer to receive hands-on learning experiences while earning additional credits.
Memorandums of understanding were executed earlier this year, including three with Zambia institutions: the Africa Education Center, University of Zambia and Deaf Association of Zambia.
In Indonesia, three more agreements were signed with institutions that cater to the tourism and hospitality industry — one of SUNY Schenectady’s most popular programs — including: NHI Tourism Polytechnic Bandung, Palembang Tourism Polytechnic and the Bali Tourism Polytechnic.
The agreements, which come at no cost to the institutions, are good for two years and will be revisited and updated after that period. The hope is to eventually allow SUNY Schenectady students to study abroad for a full semester, Moono said.
“At about the two year mark, we’ll sit down and do an assessment,” he said. “Maybe then things would have advanced so much that they [students] will be about to go there for a semester.”
It’s not the first time the college has entered into such an agreement.
In 2015, the college formed a partnership with the Marco Polo Program Abroad in Italy, which give up to 18 culinary students an opportunity to receive hands on training each summer.
Last year, the college signed a memorandum of understanding with the Karunya Institute of Technology and Sciences in India, which Moono at the time called a “critical effort in today’s rapidly evolving higher education landscape.”
While the agreement is in place, students from both institutions have yet to take advantage of the program due to pandemic-related issues. The hope is to move the program forward next spring, Moono said.
News of the agreements come after years of spiraling enrollment — an issue facing all community colleges in the SUNY system that has recently been exacerbated by the pandemic.
Overall, enrollment at SUNY’s 32 community college campuses has dropped 35% between the fall of 2011 and 2021, falling from 247,667 to 160,516, a difference of 87,151, according to SUNY data.
At SUNY Schenectady, the problem has been even more steep, with enrollment dropping from 6,759 in the fall of 2011 to 3,705 in 2021 — a 45% decline in a decade, according to state data.
Moono said the college is anticipating a slight increase in returning students this fall, a sign, he believes, that students are seeking to return to the classroom after the pandemic forced many out.
Enrollment dropped 15.2% between the fall of 2019, when enrollment was 4,732, and fall of 2020, when enrollment dipped to 4,015.
But new student enrollment is down around 4.5% compared to last year, according to Moono, who said the number is likely to increase as the start of classes near.
“It’s one of those phenomena that some of our students wait until the week before to enroll,” he said.
But while the college continues to deal with the loss of students at home, it’s looking to bolster its international population through in-person and online course offerings.
Details on exactly how the new programs are still being ironed out, but Moono said if all goes well, two students from Zambia will begin taking in-person classes as early as this fall, with 11 others attending online classes.
The influx of students would bring the college’s international population to 35, according to Moono, who said he’d like to reach 150 students in the coming years.
Two students from Indonesia are expected to attend in-person classes, but their arrival likely won’t happen until the spring semester as they work to obtain the necessary visas and pass requirements needed to study abroad, Moono said.
“Zambia is an English speaking country. Indonesia is not and so there are certain language requirements that students have to meet who have to come and study in the U.S. and so they have to go through certain assessments and certain tests,” he said.
Moono acknowledged that an international presence is rare for community colleges, but noted more “progressive campuses” are seeking to form such partnerships as remote learning expands.
SUNY Adirondack in Queensbury offers various opportunities through its International Education Program. Hudson Valley Community College, meanwhile, offers students an opportunity to study abroad through a partnership with the College Consortium for International Studies, which provides students up to 75 opportunities to study in 31 countries.
“Our students work around the world they don’t only work in, in America, they work around the world,” Moono said. “And so giving them that level of exposure, I think is critical.”
Contact reporter Chad Arnold at: [email protected] Follow him on Twitter: @ChadGArnold.