SUNY Cortland has so far avoided the enrollment declines other State University of New York schools have reported, using increased recruiting to keep numbers stable.
The university system faces an “outmigration” of New Yorkers leaving the state without equally being replaced by people arriving in the state or increasing birth rates replacing those leaving.
The system has about 415,000 students at 64 university and college campuses.
“If we don’t have some sort of intervention with regard to garnering more out-of-state students or increasing the number of students who go to higher ed in the state, or through our online platform, then we will be down probably tens of thousands of more students,” SUNY Chancellor Kristina Johnson told CNHI News Service.
She also said that while there is growing interest in online education, about 40,000 New Yorkers are now enrolled in online college programs based in other states.
“That’s crazy,” she said. “We have to capture that here.”
E.J. McMahon, research director for the Empire Center for Public Policy, said projections have called for a national decline in number of college-age people born after 2000.
“Outmigration is a factor here in New York, but not the main factor,” he noted. “The challenge (for the state) is to keep those kids here once they graduate.”
So far, Cortland has dodged the bullet.
“It has caused concern, but our enrollment has remained strong,” said SUNY Cortland spokesman Fred Pierce. Enrollment remained around 6,834 for both undergraduate and graduate students for at least the past five years.
The admissions department has worked to target recruiting students by offering courses that will interest them, including a new master’s program in athletic training to be offered in July and a new undergraduate major in media productions coming in the fall.
It has also expanded recruiting efforts near New York City and in other parts of the country, including in the western and southern states.
“We have really broadened the scope of students we are talking to and that has helped,” Pierce said.
The challenges, though, to recruitment, he said, deal with the costs and the need for students to take out loans and not as many young people attending college.
He noted more students entering the work force after high school than attending college. Cost, especially, is a be factor for that, he said.
“They want to make sure that it’s going to be worth it,” Pierce said.
Programs like the Excelsior scholarship, which can help provide free tuition for instate students based on family income, have been useful for helping students attend the school, he said.
Freshman Kara Thurston, of Chittenango, said that while she liked SUNY Cortland, it didn’t market itself in her high school like other colleges did, which she thought could be a factor for why students may not be going to the school as frequently as before.
“I think that if SUNY Cortland was at my school more and forcing people to come and talk to them, I think a lot of the kids would have chose that route,” she said.
She also thought the school should do more to advertise its majors beyond teaching, which is what she said the school is most known for.
Fred Kowal, president of the United University Professions the faculty union at SUNY schools, said many campuses are struggling from a growing deficit known as the “TAP Gap,” the portion of tuition that the campuses waive for students qualifying for the tuition assistance program. This has resulted in a $70 million deficit throughout the system following a series of tuition hikes, he said.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo has proposed an expansion of the Excelsior scholarship program so students from families with annual incomes of up to $150,000 would be eligible. The current income limit is $125,000. Total funding for the program would grow to $146 million.
The governor also wants to increase funding for the tuition assistance program for students both at private and public colleges.
Mary Beth Labate, president of the Commission on Independent Colleges, urged lawmakers to provide funding to increase the minimum tuition assistance award To $1,000 from $500 over three years, while boosting the maximum tuition award to $6,000 from $5,165.
“It’s essential that we focus our efforts on supporting all low-and moderate-income students, whether they choose to study at private, nonprofit or public institutions,” Labate said.
Tompkins Cortland Community College has also been working to improvement recruitment, said Greg McCalley, the vice president for student services.
Still, enrollment has dropped since 2011 from 3,999 full time students to 3,183 for the 2018-19 school year. McCalley attributed the decline to a strong economy attracting people directly into the workforce.
The school, like SUNY Cortland, has been targeting new ways of getting students to enroll by adding more full-time recruiters, McCalley said, particularly metropolitan New York.
CNHI News Service contributed to this report.