BUFFALO, N.Y. (WKBW) — COVID-19 is completely changing classrooms across the country, especially community colleges. Spring is usually a time to visit campuses and take tours, but colleges have to adapt, which is easier said than done.
“One of our vehicles for recruiting is going out to the community, going out to churches, going to libraries, we cannot do that," said Bill Reuter, Interim President at SUNY Erie Community College.
Connecting with potential students is nearly impossible for ECC now. And it shows in their enrollment numbers.
"This year we are down roughly 17-18%," said Reuter.
Nationwide, community colleges saw a 10% drop, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Reuter says this is odd, because usually, when unemployment rates go up, so do their enrollment numbers.
But that’s not happening during the pandemic and he points to a number of reasons why.
"It’s a combination of the pandemic and also hs graduation rates, they’re projected in Erie County to be down 11%,” said Reuter.
It’s also because things are different on ECC campuses. They can’t have many classes in person just yet.
"That’s been a challenge for students, it’s not the style they signed up for and they’re being forced to do that now," said Reuter.
More than 560,000 students dropped out last year, double the rate of the previous year, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
And with no tours, many students have to rely on their own research when picking a school.
THIS MORNING:— Taylor Epps (@taylor_epps_) March 30, 2021
"Students are making decisions without ever stepping foot on a campus."
Enrolling in colleges during the pandemic is quite the challenge for students. For colleges, it's easier for some than others.@WKBW @SUNYECC @daemencollege pic.twitter.com/3Oc5dJIwYq
"Students are making decisions without ever stepping foot on campus, it’s not just us it’s everywhere," said Reuter.
Including over at Daemen College in Amherst. They’ve been doing more digital advertising and mailing while also bringing students to campus in small groups. And it’s working.
"Right now we are 24 deposits ahead of where we were last year at this time. We are cautiously optimistic that our incoming class numbers will be strong," said Dr. Greg Nayor, VP of Strategic Initiatives at Daemen.
Students are less likely to travel for school, according to Dr. Nayor, so they’re staying in WNY.
"They want a college experience, they need a college experience, what Daemen has been able to offer is the stability to know that you’re gonna get an education, a great education and we’re gonna do it safely here," said Dr. Nayor.
It’s a larger battle at community colleges like ECC. In the past ten years, enrollment is down 50%. So they’re working on making bigger changes to reverse the trend.
"We’re shifting the way some of our classes our taught. We’re so stuck in this higher education mentality. Thinking that you only need to focus on two classes instead of four or five classes and we’re seeing success, so I am very hopeful," said Reuter.
Current students say investing a community college education is worth it, at any age.
"When you're looking at community colleges, obviously tuition's cheaper, you're going to get the same kind of degree," said Travis Poling, Student Trustee at ECC.
Reuter says they have a lot of challenges here at ECC and they need to do better. But this is the bottom and there’s nowhere to go but up.