Fewer than half as many students enrolled in Schenectady County Community College’s much-touted casino management program this fall compared to last year, marking a major slide in interest in the program after a big build-up before Rivers Casino opened in Schenectady.
This time last year, the program had 49 students; this year there are just 17 students enrolled, according to the college.
“We will be working on that to see how to get interest back up,” said Penny Haynes, vice president of academic and student affairs. “It seemed to be more of a draw in the beginning than it is right now.”
Haynes said the college has plans to meet this fall with representatives from Rivers and discuss ways the college can help train casino staff and the casino can help students in the college’s program score work experience while completing their degree.
Interest in the program grew for the first three years after starting in fall 2013 before starting to fall off last year and again this fall. In 2013, 18 people applied to the program and 12 registered; by 2015, 47 people had applied and 25 registered.
“When all the publicity came, the program went crazy,” Haynes said.
The program was established in 2013, around the time the state approved legislation that paved the way for a slew of new casinos. The school created six new courses, including introduction to the gaming industry, gaming operations and gaming laws and regulations.
The program’s overall enrollment hovered around 60 students in spring 2016 as students eagerly eyed jobs at Rivers Casino, which at the time was slated to open in just months.
“I think we have have a head start on the public who want to come in and get a job,” Eric Jensen, a student in the program, said during a mock casino night at SCCC last year.
But even as the casino was in full hiring mode last year, interest in the program appeared to start to wane. The enrollment drop off started last fall, with just four full-time students registering in the program, according to SCCC’s annual data book. That enrollment slide was exacerbated this year, with the larger classes from earlier years moving out of the program.
SCCC officials said they plan to analyze the program but said they knew some students had finished all of the program’s requirements but a final internship. They also said it was possible students were leaving the program because they had found jobs at the casino or elsewhere.
Haynes said the program is not large enough to have a major impact on the college’s overall enrollment numbers. But school officials have highlighted the program repeatedly in the context of the excitement and chatter surrounding the casino’s opening. SCCC President Steady Moono has held up the program as an example of the kinds of programs community colleges can develop to meet a community’s particular workforce needs.
The casino, which employs over 1,000 people, offers its own intensive internal training, including dealer school. But the SCCC program has been sold as a way to give students a foundation that would set them up for a wider variety of careers in the gaming industry, including the business, security and hospitality sides.
“We are trying to work with [Rivers] in terms of getting students to complete (their SCCC degrees),” Haynes said.