SARANAC LAKE — Enrollment at North Country Community College for the fall semester, which is starting Monday, is lower than it was last year.
Declining enrollment is a trend seen in community colleges across the country. This trend, which some college administrators have attributed to the coronavirus pandemic, is one that NCCC administrators hope to reverse.
NCCC Communications Director Chris Knight said enrollment at NCCC is currently down 6% from last year. NCCC currently has 747 students enrolled, compared to 790 last fall.
“It’s disconcerting, no doubt. We’d like that number to be bigger,” Knight said.
These numbers are not final yet, and usually are not finalized until the third week of the semester because of late enrollments and drop-outs.
Knight said this does not include NCCC students in the Second Chance Pell program or in dual enrollment programs.
NCCC President Joe Keegan said there are several reasons for this decrease.
“There are several hypotheses and COVID is one of them,” Keegan wrote in a message. “Colleges across the country saw enrollment declines in 2020-2021.”
A study from the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center showed a 9.5% drop in enrollment at U.S. community colleges in the 2021 spring semester, compared to the 2019 spring semester. There was a similar drop in the fall 2020 semester compared to the 2019 fall semester.
NCCC has faced declining numbers for years, though. In 2017, research from the NSCRC showed that community colleges across the country were experiencing similar downward trends in enrollment.
“Much of our recruiting season in fall 2020 was lost due to COVID and it is possible that prospective students have been struggling with COVID-related issues in their families and lives,” Keegan wrote. “Our hope is that with relatively high vaccination rates in the region, that prospective students will take advantage of the career and transfer opportunities that are available through North Country.”
Knight said the financial impacts of low enrollment on the college are alleviated by COVID-19-related government stimulus aid.
NCCC got $7.1 million in Higher Education Emergency Relief Funds from the federal CARES Act.
“Of that, $3 million is earmarked for support that we have provided directly to our students (the college cannot use it),” Knight wrote in an email. “The remaining $4.1 (million) is for the college.”
He said NCCC has used those funds to create six classrooms offering in-person and online instruction at the same time by the same faculty member — three at the Saranac Lake campus, two at the Malone campus and one at the Ticonderoga campus.
Knight said the rest of the funds are being used for potential HVAC upgrades to campus buildings, to support a laptop loan program, and for COVID testing, masks and sanitizing materials.
“Given the situation that we’re seeing, that other colleges are seeing around the state and the country, it could be worse without those additional funds,” he said.