SANBORN, N.Y. (WKBW) — The latest State University of New York (SUNY) data shows a sharp decline in student enrollment at community colleges statewide and across western New York over the last 10 years.
Natalee Woodward’s glad she chose Niagara County Community College to further her education.
“It’s affordable and local. I know people. It’s just easy to go around here,” she said.
Her college career hasn’t come without hiccups.
The 19-year-old from North Tonawanda decided to take last year off during the pandemic after the community college went entirely virtual. “Being online, I didn’t have much contact with my professors. So, I think being in person makes it a lot easier to communicate.”
So, Woodward said she can understand why there’s been a decline in community college enrollment. But, the data shows the problem dates back to well before the pandemic began.
From 2010 to 2020, NCCC enrollment dropped 42% from 7,428 in 2010 to 4,346 in 2020. College officials said the state’s overall population decline is largely to blame. “We have less and less graduating seniors every year and we have a large number of higher ed institutions. So, we’re all competing for those graduates,” said NCCC Enrollment Management Assistant Vice President, Robert McKeown.
McKeown said more students are also going into trade school.
NCCC isn’t alone. All of the community college in Western New York have seen a drop in enrollment.
Erie Community College dropped 45% or 15,084 in 2010 to 8,364 in 2020.
“We are concerned,” said ECC Admissions Director Phil Struebel.
Struebel said 2010 enrollment was high to being with. He explained they saw a surge during the 2008 recession. “At that time, it was kind of the peak of high school graduates. That has steadily declining the past 10 to 15 years and it’s scheduled to decrease even further between now and 2030.”
Genesee Community College enrollment declined by 38 percent from 7,486 in 2010 to 4,735 in 2020.
“With more jobs requiring some post-secondary credential, it is imperative that we continue to create more readily available avenues for all students to access higher education—and public higher education, like SUNY can lead the way. That’s what our SUNY for ALL Program is all about—providing high quality and affordable education to anyone who wants an opportunity, especially those underrepresented communities too often left behind. We are not facing an enrollment challenge in this country, we are facing an equity challenge. We need to go into underrepresented communities and show them they have options and resources for seeking out an affordable higher education journey—that is where SUNY’s focus is," said SUNY Chancellor Jim Malatras in a statement when asked about solutions to improving enrollment.
Erie is taking a closer look at program delivery, and how it’s engaging with students. It’s also in the process of adding high flex learning, although it’s not yet being offered.
NCCC is getting creative with how classes are offered including additional high flex classes. That’s when a student can take a course in person, online, or watch a recording of a lecture when it’s convenient for them. It’s also trying to offer additional payment methods and funding sources so it’s more affordable.
“College should not be a burden. It should be a stepping stone or launching pad to their careers and futures. That’s what we need to get back to,” said McKeown.