President Maurie McInnis said this week that Stony Brook University...

President Maurie McInnis said this week that Stony Brook University has 26,130 students enrolled for the fall semester, about 200 fewer than last fall. Credit: Stony Brook University

Stony Brook University began its fall semester this week with enrollment only slightly under last fall’s, but with fewer students living on campus and remote instruction accounting for more than 80% of class registrations.

Universities on Long Island and across the nation have grappled since the spring with planning and preparations for safely receiving students as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to spread in many states.

“We’re so glad to be back together, the energy has returned to campus and we’re thrilled to have them here,” said the Stony Brook's first-year president, Maurie McInnis, who has greeted arriving students while wearing a black mask and a cheery red university polo shirt.

In an interview this week, she said 26,130 students are enrolled for the fall semester, only about 200 fewer than last fall. The university tapped more than 10 times the number of New Yorkers off the waiting list than the previous year to make up for the anticipated 17% drop in the enrollment of international and out-of-state students. So far, 494 wait-listed New York residents have accepted offers of admission compared to 42 last fall and 24 in 2018.

Travel restrictions imposed during the COVID-19 pandemic have severely limited the number of international student traveling from abroad to attend U.S. higher education institutions. Nonresidents, including those from abroad, pay higher tuition than state residents, and as a result the university will see a net loss of $16 million in tuition revenue, the university said.

Nationally, several large universities experienced COVID-19 outbreaks within the first week of students returning to campus, including some that quickly reverted to remote instruction and closed dorms. McInnis said any decision to close Stony Brook’s campus would depend on a “complex interplay of the metrics that we are tracking” and come in consultation with the state Health Department.

In the few weeks since students have returned to the dorms, a few already have received interim suspensions of residential housing for holding gatherings higher than permitted under guidelines, McInnis said. Their conduct cases are under investigation.

“We’ve not had anything on a large scale,” said McInnis, who accepted the job of president in March while executive vice president and provost at the University of Texas at Austin. Students "really want to be here and understand clearly the connections between their behavior and their ability to be here for the remainder of the semester.”

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said Thursday that New York colleges must shut down in-person instruction for two weeks if they have 100 cases of confirmed positives of the coronavirus or a number equal to 5% of their total student and faculty population.

Only about 4,600 Stony Brook students will live in campus residential housing, McInnis said, compared to about 10,000 typically. Many students have opted for online classes, and as of now, 81% of registrations are for remote instruction.

"Students were given the autonomy to choose between online and in-person courses," university spokeswoman Lauren Sheprow said. “They overwhelmingly pursued remote sections whenever there was a choice.”

She added, “On numerous occasions, classes originally scheduled to take place in person were transitioned to a distance education format due to student demand."

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