It’s the economy, silly. That’s largely what drives community college enrollments up and down.
Since the depths of the Great Recession in 2011, enrollment at SUNY Schenectady has fallen by 30 percent, with more than a quarter of that amount, around 8 percent, taking place between just last fall and this fall.
When the economy is strong, people can find work and do so; when the economy is weak, many people enroll at a community college to gain new skills or acquire a degree while searching for work.
“Right now there is a sense the economy is doing very well… and that has been a phenomena that has been studied, we have looked at all community colleges across the country: the economy appears to be doing well, community college enrollment is going to struggle,” SUNY Schenectady President Steady Moono said during a November interview. “And the opposite is true: if the economy seems to be struggling, then community college enrollment is going to go up.”
SUNY Schenectady in recent years, though, has shed a larger share of its enrollment than other community colleges in the region. Between 2011 and 2018, SUNY Schenectady lost 22 percent of its enrollment – full-time and part-time students combined – compared with a 9 percent enrollment loss at SUNY Adirondack in Queensbury, a 14 percent loss at Fulton-Montgomery Community College, a 19 percent loss at Hudson Valley Community College and a 17 percent loss at Mohawk Valley.
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Statewide, the enrollment losses at SUNY system community colleges have counteracted enrollment gains at SUNY schools, resulting in overall enrollment declines systemwide.
Despite their losses, SUNY Schenectady leaders say they are constantly working to identify prospective students, fine tune program offerings and provide support to increase student retention and graduation rates.
“The challenge for us is how can we remind folks that even though you are employed, you have a good job, you are gaining x-number of dollars per hour, you still need to retool and perhaps you can do better,” Moono said. “That is our internal challenge to say how do we encourage those folks who are even employed to say you still have to think about the future and we believe you can do better.”
He said the region’s demographics are working against the school, too. He said the number of high school graduates who would be chief targets to enroll in college has been shrinking in recent years and studies suggest that the trend will continue for at least another three years.
“That funnel is shrinking and it’s predicted to shrink for the next three to five years and then there is going to be a growth,” he said.
But the college, celebrating its 50th anniversary this year, is confident it will continue to serve the community for decades to come, constantly looking for new organizations and businesses to partner with and new students to bring to campus.
Some programs have failed, while others are flourishing. Here’s a look at two of them: