CUNY enrollment plummets as COVID-19 pandemic continues

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The lingering COVID-19 pandemic has taken a bite out of the City University of New York.

Student enrollment at CUNY has plummeted by an estimated 33,000 students at its 25 campuses combined over the past two academic years, according to unpublished data obtained by The Post.

CUNY had 218,835 undergraduate students in fall 2019 — just months before the COVID outbreak hit.

By the fall of 2020, the number of undergrads fell to 203,590, a nearly 7-percent drop which came as classes were mostly taught virtually during the spring 2020 semester to curb the spread of COVID.

The unpublished data as of August 20 shows CUNY enrollment for this fall semester at 185,989 — a projected reduction of 32,846 students or 15 percent lower than the same period two years ago.

The continued decline coincides with strict safety protocols, including requiring students to get vaccinated against COVID-19 or tested for the virus.

Several colleges have seen a plummet in enrollment as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to run rampant in the United States.
Several colleges have plummeted in enrollment as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to run rampant in the United States.
REUTERS/Mike Segar

Many CUNY students also attend part-time and could have been put out of work during the pandemic, making it more difficult to pay tuition bills.

A CUNY rep emphasized that this fall’s enrollment figures are preliminary but admitted another dip in student population enrollment is likely.

“Like colleges and universities across the country, we anticipate that enrollment will decline, but it is too early to project a final figure as several of our colleges are on different academic calendars and offer rolling admissions,” said CUNY spokesman Frank Sobrino.

CUNY has experienced nearly a 7 percent drop in enrollment from 218,835 to 203,590 students in 2021.
CUNY has experienced nearly a 7 percent drop in enrollment from 218,835 to 203,590 students in 2021.
Erik McGregor/LightRocket via Getty Images

He noted CUNY’s programs to forgive tuition and debt for financially struggling students should put more of them back into the classroom. The debt relief programs are funded by federal COVID-19 dollars.

“We know these initiatives are encouraging students who would not otherwise enroll to sign up for classes this semester,” Sobrino said.

The State University of New York said it did not have preliminary fall enrollment figures yet for its 64 senior and community college campuses. But enrollment fell by about 5 percent last year.

CUNY university announced that they have several programs that are in place to help struggling students financially due to the pandemic.
CUNY university announced that they have several programs that are in place to help struggling students financially due to the pandemic.
REUTERS/Mike Segar

Earlier this year, SUNY Chancellor James Malatras said student applications were down 20 percent during the COVID-19 outbreak.

Meanwhile, some of New York’s biggest private colleges appeared to have rebounded from the worst of the pandemic and boosted enrollment for the new fall semester after a drop last year.

Fordham University reports 2,896 first-year students as of September, compared to 2,077 in fall 2020.

Several of New York's private colleges have supposedly rebounded and enrollment numbers are up.
Several of New York’s private colleges have supposedly rebounded and enrollment numbers are up.
Billy Becerra, NY POST

Fordham, which has campuses in The Bronx, Lincoln Center in Manhattan and Westchester, enrolled 2,250 first-time students in fall 2019.

The cancellation of many in-person classes left many residential units in dorms vacant last year. But this year, Fordham’s dorms are packed, a university rep said.

“Our residence halls are 100% occupied (approximately 4,685 students), and are even with where we were in fall 2019. Fall 2020 we were 65% occupancy (approximately 3,100 students),” said Fordham spokesman Bob Howe.

“Our COVID-19 policies do not seem to have had any negative effect on enrollment,” he said.

The student population at St. John’s University — which has campuses in Queens and Staten Island — also has largely recovered from the worst of the pandemic, a rep there said.

“At St. John’s University, we have found that both new and returning students are largely receptive and compliant with our COVID-19 vaccine requirement that applies to all students and employees. We project an entering first-year class of almost 3,000 students — that is more reflective of our pre-COVID-19 recruitment efforts,” said St. John’s spokesman Brian Browne.

He said St. John’s has seen a 36-percent increase in first-year student enrollment, and a 46-percent boost in the resident student population, which had plunged in 2020 when in-person classes were largely eliminated.

In 2019, St. John’s enrolled 3,135 first-year students.

Pace University — which has a campus in downtown Manhattan, as well as locations in Westchester — also reported a big turnaround, with enrollment even shattering pre-pandemic levels.

“Enrollment for the fall semester is strong. Pace University is welcoming the largest incoming class in over two decades and possibly in the history of the university. Students are eager to be in New York, have a college experience, and get a degree that prepares them for a career,” said Robina Schepp, Pace’s vice president for enrollment and placement.

“All three campuses at Pace University (New York City and our two campuses in Westchester) have seen growth this year and compared to pre-pandemic years. The greatest growth has been in New York City.”



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