Local colleges are reporting record numbers of applications, with science and engineering fields of particular interest to students.
Skidmore College in Saratoga Springs was one of the few local college to report a drop, which officials there are blaming on the economy.
At last count, Schenectady’s Union College has received 5,508 applications, which is up 7 percent from the previous year and 4 percent higher than the previous record, according to Matt Malatesta, vice president for admissions and financial aid.
Malatesta attributes the heightened interest to new campus facilities and the school’s academic reputation. This year’s applicants, for example, were the first to tour the Peter Irving Wold Center when they visited the campus. The 35,000-square-foot, four-story facility opened last spring to house liberal arts and engineering programs. The center is part of the college’s new approach to house more than one discipline in a building so students and professors can work on interdisciplinary projects.
When people walk in, they pass a Steinway piano and see a professional-grade recording studio, Malatesta said, and ask if they are still in the science building. Malatesta said the center is quintessential Union, which prides itself on being a strong liberal arts college that allows students to combine study areas to create their own programs.
“I think in this job environment, a place to do a degree where you can have some flexibility in your career, I think that’s speaking to them,” he said.
Union’s internship program and its IBM computer cluster are likely driving interest as is the college’s rankings with Business Week and Kiplinger’s; both rate Union as one of the top liberal arts colleges in the nation for value or return on investment, according to Malatesta.
“With the economy being what it is, I think people are trying to find the college which is going to be worth the investment,” he said. Union is seeing growth from all over the world, but most of the students come from New York, New England and mid-Atlantic states.
Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute is also reporting another record-setting year. Paul Marthers, vice president for enrollment, said RPI has received nearly 15,000 applications — about 4 percent ahead of last year. He anticipates they will end up with 15,200 because applications are still trickling in.
RPI has seen record-setting enrollment for six years running. “From 2005 to this year, we’ve seen applications go up by 175 percent,” he said.
Marthers speculated that perhaps the continued interest is a sign that the economy is shifting to emphasize science and engineering jobs.
“I think we have a very strong track record at placing our students into good jobs, successful careers. People know that.”
The college has admitted about 40 percent of those who have applied. Having a deep applicant pool gives RPI the ability to be selective.
Marthers was also pleased that applications from women and minorities have increased but he did not cite an exact number. RPI is also seeing more international students and more students from the South and West Coast.
Skidmore is down about 1.3 percent to 5,662. Mary Lou Bates, dean of admissions and financial aid, attributed that decline partly to demographics. There are fewer high school students graduating this year, she said. Also, the weak economy is another factor. Tuition and room and board total about $54,000. Bates said the college is trying to control costs.
“We have made a conscious effort to get out of the list of top 20 most expensive schools,” she said.
Skidmore is also trying to reach out to students from a broader geographic area. Bates also pointed to a 20 percent increase, from 507 and 635, in the number of applications from international students. Many of those students have indicated that they do not require financial aid, which is a market that college officials have targeted.
“Our financial aid is limited. Seven percent of the freshman class are international students. We have lots more we would love to take,” she said.
All the colleges are pricey, and most provide aid packages. But there is sticker shock regardless. The ballpark totals for local institutions including tuition, room and board: Union, $54.000; RPI, $54,000; Siena, $42,000; Saint Rose, $35,000; and UAlbany, $18,000 for in-state residents and $26,000 for out-of-state.
University at Albany spokesman Karl Luntta said the university has exceeded 20,000 applications for the sixth consecutive year. Luntta did not provide an exact number because they are still receiving applications.
“Our freshman applications are about even with last year,” he said.
Heather Renault, director of admissions for Siena College in Loudonville, said applications are holding steady at around 9,700 — similar to 2011, which was a record-breaking year.
“Many of us have been having record number of application years over and over again. I think part of it is students are applying to more schools, which is increasing our applicant pool,” she said. Online forms and a common application makes applying to schools easier, Renault said, adding that students are trying to keep their options open.
Application fees vary. The College of Saint Rose and Union don’t have an application fee, while Siena and UAlbany charge $50 and Skidmore charges $65.
The College of Saint Rose — more traditionally known for its teaching and education programs — is also seeing rising interest in math and science programs, according to Mary Grondahl, vice president of enrollment management.
Of the 4,891 applications received, a 1.7 percent increase from last year, roughly 2,000 are to the School of Mathematics and Sciences.
“Saint Rose offers a lot of the programs that students and the market are asking for right now,” she said.
Applications to the school of business are up 10 percent, according to Grondahl.
There is also strong interest in the communications and speech pathology and music industry programs, she said.
The education industry has experienced layoffs, which may have contributed to the 4 percent drop in applications to the School of Education.
Grondahl also attributed the rising interest in the college to new facilities either in use or under construction at the campus. The campus opened the William Randolph Hearst Communications Center in 2010 and the new Huether School of Business building will open this year.