ALBANY — Seven months into the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and about a month into the 2020-21 academic year, higher education institutions nationwide continue to evaluate enrollment trends.

As of Sept. 10, about one-fifth of U.S. higher education institutions of all types submitted enrollment data to the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center, which reports a 2.5% decline in total undergraduate enrollment this fall from 2019 figures. Growth has been logged, too, with overall graduate enrollment increasing by 3.9%, according to the Center. Data varies across public, private, rural and urban campuses.

The State University of New York, with 64 total campuses, reports a preliminary system-wide enrollment decline of 5.7% from last year, a reality “far better than what we had projected,” SUNY Trustee and Academic Affairs Chair Stanley S. Litow said during a September Board of Trustees meeting.

SUNY Provost Tod A. Laursen delivered an enrollment report based on September data, breaking down the average 5.7% decline into a 1.3% decline across all state-operated campuses and a more than 10% drop in community college enrollment. Finalized fall 2020 figures are expected to be available in November.

From 2010 to 2020, SUNY community college enrollment has steadily declined about 30% from 249,343 enrolled students 10 years ago. In the same timeframe, enrollment at state-operated campuses, including comprehensive, research and technology schools, has remained fairly flat.

Enrollment at Jefferson Community College, Watertown, has consistently dropped since 2013. The most drastic fall, 8.9%, was recorded from 2018 to 2019.

But SUNY online program enrollment has ballooned since 2011, with partial and complete online enrollment growing every year at comprehensive colleges, community colleges and at institutions granting doctorates.

At SUNY Canton, online programming has played an essential role in the institution’s strategic growth for about two decades, SUNY Canton Admissions Director Melissa J. Evans said.

More than 450 online courses and 22 fully-online degree programs were offered through SUNY Canton even before the global health crisis prompted hybrid learning models to take center stage.

“We anticipated the current enrollment trend and have invested in ways to mitigate its effect on us,” SUNY Canton President Zvi Szafran said. “As a college of technology, we also monitored emerging industries and developed new programs to ready students for careers within those industries. Our continuing investment in online education and online support has positioned us well to attract non-traditional students and those from outside our region.”

Several new online bachelor’s degree programs, including crime analysis, game design and development, cybersecurity and Esports management, have bolstered SUNY Canton’s career-ready efforts, Ms. Evans said.

“Sometimes when people think of an online education, they think of studying alone, and that’s definitely not the case at Canton,” she said, adding that on-campus resources and tutors are designed to decrease any learning or social gaps.

Preliminary enrollment data, she said, indicates overall SUNY Canton enrollment, at 3,120 students, is down about 100 students from last year, consistent with the university’s stable enrollment figures over the last five years.

SUNY Potsdam enrollment has gradually declined every year since 2010, with 3,084 undergraduate and graduate students enrolled as of Sept. 22, down from 4,413 in 2010, and 3,339 last year, according to data published by SUNY.

Despite the 2019-20 decline, interim Vice President for Enrollment Management Ronald G. Brown said, SUNY Potsdam has surpassed enrollment predictions so far this year.

“SUNY Potsdam was very conservative in our projected enrollment and target numbers for the fall 2020 semester, given the uncertainty of the pandemic,” he said. “We have been pleasantly surprised to have exceeded our enrollment expectations this semester, even amid so much uncertainty.”

To address the university’s long-term enrollment decline, Mr. Brown said officials have been working on a strategic enrollment management plan to shape SUNY Potsdam’s enrollment approach over the next five years.

More information about campus-specific enrollment history and interactive datasets are viewable on the SUNY website.

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