Local community colleges begin to see enrollment gains following years of decline

Schenectady County Community College entrance stairway
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SCHENECTADY — Enrollment across the State University of New York system continued to fall last semester, but area community colleges managed to buck the trend, with enrollment remaining either flat or increasing slightly following years of decline. 

The sprawling 64-campus SUNY system saw its total enrollment drop to 363,612 during the fall 2022 semester, losing 6,502 students, a 1.8% decline from the fall 2021 semester when enrollment was 370,114, according to SUNY data. 

State-operated, four-year campuses saw the steepest declines, losing 5,319 students across the SUNY system, a 2.5% decrease. At SUNY community colleges, where enrollment decreases have been the sharpest in recent years, the decline was only 0.7%, falling from 160,516 enrolled students in the fall of 2021 to 159,333 last semester, the equivalent of 1,183 total students. 

But area community colleges in some cases saw slight enrollment gains or steady enrollment numbers last semester, including Schenectady County Community College, where the number of enrolled students during the fall 2022 semester was 3,690, just 15 less than the previous year.

SUNY Schenectady President Steady Moono called the latest enrollment numbers “an achievement” following years of decline, which he attributed to an uptick in returning students, ongoing efforts to meet students’ needs and expanded outreach that includes automatically admitting local high school students to the college — a plan the state is seeking to implement. 

The college saw its enrollment dip by 2,966 students between the fall 2012 and fall 2021 semesters, the equivalent of 44%, according to SUNY data. 

“I wish I could say the numbers have gone up, but to remain flat for us and for most colleges is an achievement,” Moono said. “We have been seeing, sometimes, a steep decline, but this year we are flat and as we look into the next year, we are seeing some promising trends already.”

Elsewhere, Hudson Valley Community College in Troy saw its enrollment climb to 9,141 students enrolled during the fall 2022 semester, an increase of 687 students, or 8.1% compared to the previous year, when enrollment was 8,454, according to SUNY data. 

To the west, Fulton-Montgomery Community College enrolled 1,812 students last semester, an increase of 74 students, or 4.3% compared to fall 2021, when enrollment plunged to 1,738. At SUNY Adirondack, which operates a campus in Wilton, 2,662 students were enrolled last fall, just 19 less than a year earlier.

Representatives from Fulton-Montgomery Communiny College did not return a request seeking comment. 

At SUNY Schenectady, the college has been working to increase on-campus services for students and bolstering scholarship opportunities to help offset tuition costs, and has added degree programs and opportunities for international students, Moono said.

The college also has put an emphasis on reaching out to students who had started taking classes but stopped for various reasons, a trend that increased during the pandemic when enrollment fell sharply.

Moono said the college has seen a 5% uptick in returning students this year, which he attributed to relaxed COVID protocols and fewer fears surrounding the virus.

But the pandemic continues to loom large, Moono said, especially its impacts on the economy.

Inflation continues to hover around 6% compared to last year, which has forced some students to delay their education and instead opt to enter the workforce. Some employers have also increased their wages in hopes of attracting workers in a tight labor market, which has further contributed to students delaying their education, Moono said.

Historically, community colleges see an uptick in enrollment numbers during an economic downtown, a trend that has yet to happen at SUNY Schenectady, Moono said.

“What the trend has been is if the economy is struggling we tend to experience an enrollment boom,” he said. “But this hasn’t happened probably for the first time. If anything we are experiencing the very opposite of an enrollment boom.”

But the lack of an “boom” hasn’t been without effort.

SUNY Schenectady has partnered with local school districts the past two years to automatically admit all graduating seniors to the college, a move that Moono said has increased the college’s presence within the community.

“What we’re finding out in our area is that some aren’t even aware that SUNY Schenectady exists and exists for them,” he said.

Officials from SUNY Schenectady have attended events this week at Schenectady and Mohonasen high schools, where hundreds of students learned they were automatically admitted to the college. 

Last year, 131 Schenectady and 30 Mohonasen students took advantage of the offer, according to Laura Sprauge, the director of admissions for SUNY Schenectady, who noted the program has increased the college’s visibility.

“This gives me the opportunity and SUNY Schenectady an opportunity to get in front of a whole class to let them know that right in their backyard they have this wonderful opportunity,” she said.

Gov. Kathy Hochul, earlier this year unveiled a proposal to automatically admit all graduating seniors into their local community college, a move praised by local education leaders. Community colleges are open enrollment, but eliminating the need to complete an application removes a barrier that has prevented many from seeking higher education, officials have said.

The idea has also caught the attention of SUNY administrators. 

In a recent visit to Fulton-Montgomery Community College, newly appointed SUNY Chancellor John King said the university system is working to raise awareness about opening enrollment at community colleges and will be partnering with local districts to send out a personalized letters to graduating seniors with information on the application process. 

“We’re partnering with school districts that do this, where they send the letter home to every 12th-grader, letting them know that there’s a space for them at their local community college and while all of our [community college] campuses are open enrollment, this is really a way to send a clear message to each individual student that college is for them,” King said.

Reporter Tyler A. McNeil contributed to this report.

Contact reporter Chad Arnold at: [email protected] or by calling 518-395-3120.

Categories: News, News, Schenectady, Schenectady County

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