ALBANY – The COVID-19 pandemic and the state’s free tuition program for public universities are creating great challenges for private colleges in New York City.
Private colleges have followed a declining enrollment trajectory, similar to the trajectory of schools in other states.
Nationally, preliminary data from the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center shows that enrollments for all colleges have fallen 6.5% since 2019.
Commenting on general trends in the public and private sectors, Doug Shapiro, director of the research center, said: “Far from filling the hole in the drop in enrollments last year, we continue to dig deeper.
The latest data, said Shapiro, suggests that “a year and a half after the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, we continue to see a significant decline in the number of undergraduate students nationwide, and Community colleges remain the hardest hit sector, experiencing a total enrollment drop of 14.1%. since fall 2019. ”
At private New York City colleges – which account for about 40% of total state college enrollment – there are early indications for the fall semester of 2021 that the decline in enrollment appears to be “stabilizing,” a said Emily Morgese, vice president of operations at the Commission. on independent colleges and universities in New York.
The commission represents 109 member colleges, representing 99% of private college enrollment in New York City.
In the decade leading up to the pandemic, from 2009 to 2019, Morgese said: “Enrollments were going down a bit – quite slowly – but they were going down. Thus, during this period, we have seen an overall decrease of 2% in our sector. “
But the public health crisis that began in March 2020 has stalled. Enrollment fell 4% in the fall semester 2020 compared to the previous year.
“It was more acute for the first-time students,” Morgese said. “So you think of those students who decided to wait a year before starting their first year or had some sort of medical or financial reason that made them delay the start of their first year. “
The widely documented loss of population in upstate New York and the corresponding drop in enrollment in many of the state’s public school districts are adding to the challenges for colleges.
This demographic shift has had a bigger impact on colleges that get a significant portion of their admissions inside the state than on colleges that attract students from other states.
The commission polled its members for updated data on registration numbers in September, and new numbers are expected to be available soon.
As of September 2020, the total enrollment at private colleges in New York City stood at 481,621 students. A year earlier, the number of enrollments was 502,488 students.
“The trends we saw in New York mirrored national trends,” she said, although New York’s demographic shifts were a key factor in the pre-pandemic decline.
Colleges have taken different approaches to attracting more students, with the common thread being that they have become more creative in reaching out to potential students who would consider these campuses if additional financial aid was available, Morgese said.
The state tuition assistance program, which is available to all financially qualified students, has become an important resource in helping students get to the campuses of their choice and complete their college education, has she declared.
However, New York’s free education program, known as the Excelsior, is reserved for students of the state’s public colleges, leaving an uneven playing field for private colleges competing for the same pool of. potential registrants.
“If you are recruiting primarily from within the state, you’ve seen a drop thanks to the Excelsior program,” she said of private colleges. She noted that Excelsior was the first state tuition program to exclude private colleges.
The Excelsior program was announced by former Gov. Andrew Cuomo the year before the 2018 election. Cuomo campaigned heavily on the topic of “free tuition,” touting it as one of his main accomplishments.
According to the latest tally from the National Student Clearinghouse, around 17.5 million undergraduates are now enrolled in colleges nationwide. College enrollments peaked nationally in 2010.
Over the past decade, total enrollment at the State University of New York, which has 64 campuses, has declined by nearly 20%, a troubling trend that has gained momentum in the midst of the public health crisis.
Along with declining enrollment, the most recent state budget provided SUNY $ 11.9 billion, an increase of $ 725 million from the previous year, funding 46,836 positions.