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Clearinghouse data shows college enrollment down 6.6% over two years

Stony Brook University said preliminary data shows enrollment

Stony Brook University said preliminary data shows enrollment this fall at 26,608 students, down slightly from last year and 2019, but higher than in 2018. Credit: Newsday/J. Conrad Williams Jr.

Fewer high school students are entering colleges and universities, including on Long Island, according to local schools and preliminary data from a national nonprofit tracking education trends.

Reports to the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center from about half of higher education institutions, representing 8.4 million students nationally, showed a 6.6% decline in enrollment since the beginning of the pandemic in early 2020. This fall's undergraduate enrollment is 3.2% lower than it was last fall, when enrollment had fallen 3.4% from fall 2019 enrollment.

The COVID-19 pandemic has been the driving factor for the declining enrollment.

"Far from filling the hole of last year’s enrollment declines, we are still digging it deeper," said Doug Shapiro, executive director of the Clearinghouse Research Center. "A year and a half into the COVID-19 pandemic, we continue to see significant nationwide declines in undergraduate students, and community colleges remain the most adversely affected sector, experiencing a 14.1 percent total enrollment decline since fall 2019."

What to know

  • Reports to the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center from about half of higher education institutions showed a 6.6% decline in enrollment since the beginning of the pandemic in early 2020.
  • Community colleges are the "most adversely affected sector," according to the center's executive director. The trend has materialized locally: Overall enrollment this fall was 8% lower at Suffolk County Community College and at Nassau County Community College.
  • Enrollment was down at other institutions on Long Island this fall as well, from Adelphi University to Stony Brook University and St Joseph's College.

The only category to show rising enrollment and a rebound to pre-pandemic levels were the most highly selective four-year, not-for-profit colleges and universities, while selective flagship public universities rose 1%. Less-selective four-year colleges and two-year colleges, private-for-profit institutions and online institutions showed enrollment declines.

On Long Island, enrollment declined last fall, and even further this fall, at Suffolk County Community College, spokesman Drew Biondo said. Overall enrollment this fall was 8% lower than it was a year ago. The decline was greatest among full-time students, whose numbers were 16% lower in fall 2021 compared to fall 2020.

The count went from 22,845 last fall to 21,086 this fall. The number of male continuing/returning full-time students fell by more than 22%, while continuing/returning females declined by a little more than 18%, Biondo said, adding that Black/African-American students had the largest decline, 14%.

Nassau Community College's enrollment was down 8% this fall, spokesperson Lindsey Angioletti said, though official numbers were not available. Over the past decade, Nassau's enrollment has dropped about 10,000 students, a 42% decline — from 23,767 in fall 2010 to 13,864 in fall 2020, according to SUNY records.

At St. Joseph's College in Patchogue, enrollment fell from 3,959 in fall 2019 to 3,819 last fall and 3,530 this past September, with declines in both undergraduate and graduate programs, spokesperson Jessica McAleer said.

Stony Brook University said preliminary data showed enrollment at 26,608 students, down slightly from last year and 2019, but higher than in 2018.

At Adelphi University in Garden City, overall undergraduate enrollment fell even as freshmen enrollment rebounded from last fall's declines. This fall's 1,330 freshman class grew from the 996 last fall, and 1,132 in fall 2019. But total enrollment, including graduate students, has dropped in recent years, from 7,991 in 2019 to 7,520 this fall, according to the university.

The declines in community college enrollment — and the lack of certainty that lower-income students lured to the workplace would reenter the educational pipeline — could have an effect on the workforce in the future, Shapiro said. Fewer community college students also mean fewer transferring to four-year colleges.

"The numbers are not getting better. They are still getting worse," Shapiro said.

The Clearinghouse Research Center data saw less contrast this fall between racial and ethnic groups, with whites, Blacks and Native Americans showing greater enrollment declines than Latinos and Asians, the two ethnic groups with the greatest demographic growth.

Both male and female enrollment declined this fall as well, but, Shapiro said, "Neither men nor women are recovering any of the ground lost in the past year." Since male enrollment fell more last year, it remains more affected overall, he said.

At St. Joseph's College, which became coeducational 50 years ago, women heavily outnumber male students by a ratio of 70% to 30%.

"Female college students have outnumbered male college students across the country for several decades, and we have not seen any real changes in the proportion of male-to-female students since the start of the pandemic," said Donald R. Boomgaarden, president of St. Joseph's College. "Our ratio of male-to-female students at this point is not radically different from that of other colleges and universities in the region."

By the numbers

St. Joseph's College, Patchogue: Fall 2019 enrollment, 3,959; fall 2020, 3,819; fall 2021, 3,530.

SUNY Stony Brook University: Fall 2019 enrollment, 26,814; fall 2020, 26,782; fall 2021, 26,608.

Adelphi University: Fall 2019 enrollment, 7,991; fall 2020, 7,584; fall 2021, 7,520.

Suffolk County Community College: Fall 2019 enrollment, 25,230; fall 2020, 22,845; fall 2021, 21,086.

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