The increase in applications far exceeded our expectations, said Joel...

The increase in applications far exceeded our expectations, said Joel Wincowski, deputy to the chancellor for enrollment. Above, SUNY Old Westbury graduation in May 2019. Credit: Debbie Egan-Chin

Applications to SUNY schools for fall 2023 more than doubled over this time last year, university officials said, citing a two-week fee waiver period last month that saved applicants up to $250.

And out-of-state applications rose by 80%, they said, under a new policy reducing tuition for applicants from eight states including Connecticut, Pennsylvania and New Jersey, matching tuition and fees to in-state tuition.

As of Nov. 25, SUNY said in a statement, the system saw a more than a 110% year-over-year increase — from 97,257 to 204,437 — in fall semester 2023 applications “due in large part to SUNY’s first-ever two-week fee waiver initiative, and as students continue to apply to SUNY campuses during the month of November.” 

The increase “far exceeded our expectations,” said Joel Wincowski, deputy to the chancellor for enrollment, adding that the increase “is only the beginning of an upward trend we expect in enrollment across our campuses.”

He said incoming applications after Nov. 6, when the waiver period ended, saw only a "minimal drop-off." And, he said, enrollment for next spring is already 17% higher than last year's final number, with a month to go before the deadline for spring semester applications.

Acceptance letters are already going out to fall 2023 applicants, Wincowski said, and those who didn't get into their top choices would be guaranteed acceptance at another campus.

As for the three four-year SUNY campuses on Long Island — Stony Brook University, SUNY Old Westbury and Farmingdale State College — applications also more than doubled for fall 2023.

At Stony Brook, there were 23,690 this year through Nov. 25, or 148% more than the 9,555 in the same period last year. 

At SUNY Old Westbury, there were 3,386, or 220% more than the 1,057 a year ago.

At Farmingdale State College, there were 5,887, or 185% more than the 2,064 a year ago. There, more than 1,400 acceptances have been offered to students compared to this time last year, said Jeanne Soto, Farmingdale State's director of admissions, in an email.

"We look forward to welcoming a diverse student body to our campus this fall," Soto said. 

Wincowski said that while schools in the SUNY system could become a little more competitive, "there's a lot of room for growth in our system in the future."

He said the system has seen decreasing enrollment over the last decade due to declines in teenage demographic groups in the Northeast and the effects of the COVID pandemic, and that as a result there are spaces available for those who choose to enroll in the fall. From 2011 to 2021, enrollment fell 21%, from 468,006 to 370,114.

“SUNY has the capacity to guarantee enrollment in our system to the prospective students driving our historic increase in applications," he said. 

After applications continued to decline during the pandemic, last year saw a modest uptick as campus life began to normalize, Wincowski said.

"However, we attribute this historic surge in applications to our successful fee-waiver period and ongoing marketing initiatives, including tuition-match with several out-of-state flagships and guaranteed placement programs. This effort is about 64 SUNY campuses working together to create opportunity,” he said.

He also said transfer applications have increased 130% compared to this time last year.

States offered tuition matching will "continue to drive out-of-state enrollment," Wincowski said. "Preliminary forecasts indicate that out-of-state students could comprise up to 7% of our first-year enrollees.”

 In the longer run, he envisions top SUNY schools becoming "very, very competitive," he said, with significant improvement in national survey rankings such as U.S. News & World Report's.

"I would love to see us on par with the California system, truthfully," Wincowski said.

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