CAPITAL REGION — A proposal by Gov. Kathy Hochul that would automatically admit all high school students to their local community college, eliminating the need to fill out an application, is receiving high marks from local education leaders, who say the plan would tear down barriers keeping many from obtaining a higher education.
Hochul, a Democrat, laid out the proposal as part of her State of the State address earlier this month, along with a series of plans aimed at bolstering the sprawling State University of New York system that has for years been grappling with declining enrollment and climbing tuition rates.
Exact details on how the plan would work are expected to be handed down as part of the governor’s budget package that will be unveiled Wednesday, setting off a weekslong process to adopt a spending plan for the upcoming fiscal year that begins on April 1.
But some education leaders have already voiced support for the idea, saying it’s a step in the right direction to ensure that all students have access to a higher education, and builds on local efforts to automatically admit high school students to community college that have been in place for years.
At SUNY Schenectady County Community College, partnerships are already in place with Duanesburg, Mohonasen and Schenectady school districts to automatically admit all graduating seniors, according to Steady Moono, the college’s president.
Moono said the college is in talks with officials from the Niskayuna Central School District to offer a similar program, with the goal of admitting all local graduating high school students to the college.
The governor’s proposal, he said, would accelerate those plans, ensuring all students have access to a higher education without having to complete an application — a time-consuming and often daunting task that prevents many from attending college, especially for first-generation students, Moono said.
“It breaks down certain barriers, especially for first-generation students, where college is very intimidating. It’s foreign,” he said.
Moono said that when students are automatically admitted, the college sends admission counselors and financial aid advisors to the school to work directly with students, which helps simplify an otherwise complicated process.
“It gives students an upper hand,” he said. “It removes one more barrier for them.”
At the Schenectady City School District, around 400 graduating seniors last year received automatic admittance into SUNY Schenectady last year, part of what the district has called the “Schenectady Promise.”
A total of 131 of those students have taken advantage of the offer and enrolled at the college, according to SUNY Schenectady.
Schenectady school Superintendent Anibal Soler Jr. said automatically admitting students into community college is critical in ensuring students can go on to college after graduating high school, noting that in some cases the application process prevents students from pursuing a degree.
“The biggest thing is that it removes the barrier of the process, and sometimes that’s enough for some of our kids,” he said. “I love hearing that she’s [Hochul] proposing that.”
Soler said the college is looking to expand the program to include district families, though he declined to provide additional details, citing ongoing talks with the college.
Hochul’s proposal comes as community colleges across the SUNY system look for ways to attract new students in the face of plummeting enrollment that has been spiraling for the past decade.
The 30 community colleges that are in the SUNY system have seen enrollment decline by a combined 35%, falling from 247,667 to 160,516 between 2011 and 2021, according to SUNY enrollment data.
At SUNY Schenectady, the drop has been even steeper, with enrollment falling 45% during the same period, from 6,759 to 3,705, according to data.
Similar trends have been playing out at other local community colleges, including Fulton-Montgomery Community College and Hudson Valley Community College in Troy, where enrollment has dropped 39% and 38% in the same 10-year period, respectively.
Fulton-Montgomery President Greg Truckenmiller declined a request for comment, citing a lack of details on the governor’s plan. Last year, the college automatically admitted the entire Mayfield Central School District graduating class, the equivalent of 80 students.
At HVCC, the college has also worked to hold instant admission days for students in an effort to simplify the process for students and bolster its ranks, according to Ian LeChance, dean of enrollment services.
“We applaud all efforts to drive more students to SUNY colleges and universities and we hope these new initiatives will showcase the fact that starting a SUNY degree at a community college is a great opportunity for a large number of Capital Region students,” he said in a release. “Throughout the academic year, members of our admissions team are out visiting high schools across the region for in-school instant admission events, where we are able to sit down and discuss, one-on-one, each student’s college plans.”
Johanna Duncan-Poitier, the senior vice chancellor for community colleges and the education pipeline at SUNY, praised the governor’s proposal, noting that community colleges across the state have been developing ways to bolster students.
She said that community colleges in the SUNY system already waive application fees and are open enrollment, but noted that many simply don’t realize the resource is available to them.
Duncan-Poitier added that community colleges are gateways to four-year institutions, and in the case of the SUNY system, have built in pathways that allow students to transfer earned credits to other institutions within the system, opening up doors to a bachelor’s degree other higher education degree.
“This is a way of letting students who might not otherwise know that his is an opportunity,” Duncan-Poitier said. “We think this is a wonderful idea.”
Contact reporter Chad Arnold at: [email protected] or by calling 518-395-3120.
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This is what Democrats do best. Provide opportunity.
Thank you Governor Hochul.