Katherine Pokorney, left, who’s going to Binghamton University, takes a...

Katherine Pokorney, left, who’s going to Binghamton University, takes a selfie with her friends Thomas Kerrigan, 17, and Mandy Nicolosi, 17, at West Islip High School in May. All three students will be attending SUNY colleges. Credit: James Carbone

As thousands of Long Island high school students get ready to graduate this month, hundreds of them likely will end up at one of the state university’s campuses.

Nearly 70,000 students from Long Island are undergraduates at a college run by the State University of New York, according to data from the system for fall 2023. Long Island undergraduates made up about 22% of the overall 320,000 SUNY students statewide at more than 60 campuses.

A tuition that’s more affordable for in-state residents, an emphasis on research, and familiarity with the campuses have led many to enroll at the schools, educators and students say. Hundreds of Long Island students also attend private colleges, and counselors say schools in the South have grown increasingly popular.

Total student enrollment across SUNY campuses grew for the first time in a decade last fall, with a 1.1% increase. The SUNY system represents a mix of community colleges, technical colleges, comprehensive colleges and university centers.

WHAT TO KNOW

  • Nearly 70,000 students from Long Island are undergraduates at a college run by the State University of New York, according to data for fall 2023.
  • Long Island undergraduates made up about 22% of the overall 320,000 students statewide.
  • Local guidance counselors said SUNY’s implementation of a free application week two years ago has influenced student choices.

Long Islanders range from the tens of thousands who attend college at the five local SUNY campuses to thousands who dorm at schools across the state to a handful enrolled in small upstate community colleges. About 1,300 are enrolled at online Empire State.

SUNY schools “have always been popular, but they have gotten more popular in the last five to 10 years being that they are such a great education for such an affordable price,” said Jacqueline Zorskas, guidance counselor at West Hempstead High School.

Local guidance counselors said SUNY’s implementation of a free application week two years ago has influenced student choices, too. High school seniors can apply to up to five SUNY schools at no cost. SUNY officials said the free two-week period will take place again in October.

“We jumped right on the free application when it became available,” said Jake Verdi, 18. A Babylon High School senior, Verdi will attend SUNY Geneseo to pursue a teaching degree.

According to the data, the highest concentration of local undergraduate students was within the community colleges. The fall 2023 enrollment numbers showed more than 19,000 local students at Suffolk County Community College and roughly 10,800 undergraduates from Long Island at Nassau Community College.

Ryan Leake, 24, of Baldwin, first went to Suffolk County Community College before transferring to earn his bachelor’s degree from SUNY Old Westbury. He graduated in May.

“It was affordable, and I could get scholarships that allowed me to go to school for cheap,” he said. “It was a good experience, especially going to Suffolk first. It was an easy transition.”

Community college tuition runs about $10,600 annually for commuters.

The average tuition for in-state SUNY students who live on campus is $24,540 per year. According to the College Board, tuition and fees for a private nonprofit four-year school runs about $41,540, but the majority of full-time undergraduate students receive grant aid that helps them pay for college. Still, the cost of higher education continues to skyrocket. Some schools, such as Tufts University, have broken the $90,000 cost of attendance threshold for the coming year.

“We see a lot of students applying to a variety, a mix of both private and the SUNY systems. But I think when all things settle — they look at the value of SUNY,” said Sal Rosato, guidance counselor at Shoreham-Wading River High School.

Last month, Stony Brook University had to institute a radius policy because of a “significantly higher” than expected number of local students signing up for on-campus housing. About 300 incoming students who live within a 30-mile radius of the campus have been placed on a housing wait list.

The SUNY system also has faced years of enrollment declines, and in a March report, State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli highlighted the challenges New York’s higher education sector is facing, including enrollment declines, growing costs of attendance and rising student debt for both private and public schools.

The report also noted that New York’s public and private average undergraduate charges were both higher than the national average, particularly for in-state costs at two-year public institutions.

“The college-age population that drives enrollments at postsecondary institutions has been dropping as a share of the total population nationally, and is forecast to undergo a precipitous drop beginning in 2025 — a looming ‘enrollment cliff,’ ” the report read.

Some SUNY schools, such as Fredonia and Potsdam, are facing multimillion deficits and have been cutting programs. United University Professions president Fred Kowal said the state — while investing in the university centers such as Stony Brook and Buffalo — is shortchanging these upstate campuses. About 175 Long Island students attend Potsdam and 233 at Fredonia.

“The problem is not every student wants to go to a university center,” Kowal said. “They may want to go to Potsdam and study programs that are not going to be available. The smaller campuses have a real attraction to them.”

Over the past two years, SUNY has received a $277 million increase in operating aid for its campuses.

“With record investments in SUNY, promises are being kept, promised programs are blossoming, lasting change and improvement are building every day, and the world is taking notice,” SUNY Chancellor John King said in his State of the University speech last month. He also highlighted work being done on Long Island’s public college and university campuses, from climate change research to increasing diversity and equity.

More than 19,000 local students are enrolled as undergraduates at the four-year schools located on Long Island — SUNY Old Westbury, Farmingdale State College and Stony Brook. More than 75% of SUNY Old Westbury undergraduate students are local, officials there confirmed.

Damin Rush, 22, of North Babylon, earned a bachelor’s degree in biochemistry from SUNY Old Westbury in May. He plans to go to Stony Brook for graduate work in pharmacology.

“I decided to go to SUNY. It’s cheaper, better and the education was really good,” he said.

For those who go away, upstate Binghamton University remains popular, with Long Island residents making up about a quarter of the undergraduate student body. In fall 2023, more than 3,500 local students attended the research university center, with about one in five undergraduates from Long Island. About 14,400 undergraduates are enrolled overall.

Katherine Pokorney, 17, a senior at West Islip High School, considered private schools but also applied to Binghamton, where she decided to attend.

“I want to study chemistry, and the representative from the school said that one of their professors won a Nobel Prize,” she said. “I scheduled a tour and fell in love.”

Other SUNY four-year schools that enrolled Long Island students, according to fall 2023 undergraduate data, include: Cortland (1,879), Buffalo University (1,942), Albany (1,514) and Oneonta (1,455).

Private colleges can offer packages that can sometime bring the cost close to SUNY. New York Institute of Technology officials said the top markets for first-year students who will be attending New York Tech’s Long Island campus are from Nassau, Queens, Suffolk and Brooklyn, in that order.

They cannot exactly match an in-state tuition, but the school in Old Westbury offers different tiers of scholarships that can bring the $44,000 tuition price down considerably, said Joseph Posillico, vice president for enrollment management and strategic communications. On average, students will pay $22,000 to $25,000 in tuition after scholarships and if they qualify for other need-based programs.

“Our classes are smaller … All of our classes are taught by faculty, not graduate assistants, not teaching assistants. So that's important to families. And in terms of research, students have opportunities to do research with faculty, because again, you're not competing with 18,000 other students,” Posillico said. “There's a lot of advantages. And it's not just for New York Tech but for other private schools that are smaller.”

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