More new students are entering classes at Schenectady County Community College this fall than a year ago, a positive sign for college officials hoping to stanch an enrollment slide in recent years.
This fall, 689 new students enrolled in classes at SCCC, up from 585 new students last fall, according to the college. But with last year’s smaller cohort of students advancing and the previous year’s larger class leaving, overall enrollment is still down slightly compared to last fall.
“We are feeling good about the trend,” said Penny Haynes, vice president of academic and student affairs. Haynes said it was possible after another round of late September registrations, the overall enrollment may match or overtake last year’s numbers.
Some of the biggest enrollment gains came in transfer programs that set up students to transition to four-year colleges and universities after earning an SCCC degree, officials said. SCCC has trumpeted new transfer agreements with the University at Albany, Siena College, Maria College and New York University, all signed in the last year.
The music department nearly doubled its enrollment, in part thanks to a new one-year certificate program focused on digital music production. The craft brewing degree program, which opened last fall, grew from eight to 26 students this year.
But the school’s casino and gaming program, much-publicized and now in its fourth year, took a big hit.
The school’s nutrition transfer program welcomed nine new students last fall but jumped by 30 new students this fall. Interest in the program has grown in recent years as people have started to pay more attention to health and fitness, nutrition faculty member Lorena Harris said. After finishing introductory nutrition courses at SCCC, students can go on to a program at Sage Colleges or SUNY Oneonta before pursuing careers as dietitians, personal trainers, health coaches and more.
“When I started, I was teaching one class, then two and then three and now I lost count,” Harris said, adding that the classes take a case-study approach and ask students to develop nutrition plans for a health condition of interest.
Harris said a lot of her students are changing careers with an eye toward a focus on health and nutrition or are looking to ramp up their skills.
“I believe it’s because there are different opportunities that might open up after they [graduate],” she said. “They start with goals of nutrition and go from there.”
Students are also showing more interest in the school’s psychology transfer program, a well-worn college degree that sets students on the path to a variety of careers in counseling, social work and more.
Mike Washco, a psychology professor, said the program’s teachers are largely professional counselors who work in the mental health field, giving students a chance to learn from people who have practiced what is covered in class.
“It’s not just book knowledge, it’s applicable skills,” he said.
Washco said he and other professors are in constant communication with students about what their interests in the field are and where they might take them after SCCC. If a student is interested in a school that doesn’t have a direct transfer agreement with SCCC, Washco said he reaches out to that school to find out exactly what the student will need to transfer.
The boost in new students comes a year after overall enrollment at SCCC dropped by over 10 percent. SCCC President Steady Moono said at the time it would be “dangerous” if that enrollment trend continued.
The school had seen big increases during the recession, growing enrollment by 25 percent between 2008 and 2013. But at SCCC, and community colleges across the country, that growth started to taper as the economy strengthened. They are starting to rebound, but officials aren’t quite sure where enrollment will level off at.
“We don’t know what a really consistent number is,” Haynes said, pointing to fluctuations in recent years.
Excelsior scholarship helps some
SCCC officials said there are 68 students receiving support through the new Excelsior Scholarship, which this year promises certain students from families making less than $100,000 free tuition at state universities and community colleges.
Mark Bessette, director of financial aid, said the college had not come across any students advisers felt should be eligible but couldn’t receive the state support. He said the college gets regular updates of students who have finished the process of applying for the scholarship directly with the state. It’s possible some students have applied and been approved for the scholarship but haven’t finished the final step of signing a contact with the state. SCCC gets weekly updates of new students granted aid.
“What we don’t know is how many students are eligible but haven’t signed the contract yet,” Bessette said.
College officials also said the number of students receiving state support through the program should rise in the coming years as the income threshold continues to increase and more students view college as a more affordable option.