N.Y. Private Colleges See In-State Enrollment Decline

November 15, 2017

Many of New York State’s private nonprofit colleges that rely heavily on in-state students are taking enrollment hits this fall, the first in which the state’s Excelsior Scholarship offering free tuition to many students at public universities is in place.

The statewide association representing private nonprofit college leaders in New York, the Commission on Independent Colleges and Universities, surveyed its members about their enrollment in August and September. It received responses from 80, or three-quarters of its total membership.

Of those 80 institutions, 48 have student bodies made up of 65 percent or more New York State residents. And of those 48 institutions, 30 reported enrollment declines in the fall of 2017.

Among all 48 institutions whose student bodies were at least 65 percent New York State residents, in-state first-time freshmen enrollment fell by 6 percent from the fall of 2016 to the fall of 2017. Total undergraduate enrollment dropped by 2 percent. Half reported fewer incoming transfers this fall.

Among only those 30 institutions reporting enrollment declines this fall, New York resident first-time freshmen enrollment dropped by 8 percent. Total undergraduate enrollment fell by 5 percent. A majority of the institutions, 60 percent, reported fewer incoming transfers this fall.

In total, the 30 institutions enroll about 60,300 undergraduates.

Overall enrollment had been relatively stable among the state’s private institutions in recent years, according to CICU. The association did not note any specific types of institution that were more likely to have experienced enrollment declines. Institutions across the state and with student bodies of various sizes saw enrollment drop.

Many private nonprofit presidents have said they struggled to hold prospective students’ interest after New York Governor Andrew Cuomo announced he wanted to create the Excelsior Scholarship in January.

“Our presidents would tell us they were having a pretty good year in terms of interest, and then things started drying up,” said Mary Beth Labate, CICU president.

A spokeswoman for the governor’s office said that high tuition costs and rising student debt have caused enrollment declines at private colleges. The state created an enhanced tuition award for private colleges, she pointed out in an email, also urging private institutions to work with the state to make college more affordable.

Many private colleges decided not to opt into the Enhanced Tuition Award Program. Presidents balked at residency and work restrictions placed on students after graduation, as well as requirements that participating colleges and universities match state funding and freeze tuition for award recipients.

The governor’s office has said about 45,000 students are attending the State University of New York or the City University of New York after being deemed eligible for Excelsior Scholarships this fall. More than 23,000 have their tuition covered by existing programs like the state’s Tuition Assistance Program, Pell Grants and other sources of financial aid. About 22,000 more have their tuition covered by the scholarship, which is structured as a last-dollar program covering costs after other sources of funding.

New York is rolling out the free tuition program over three years. In the current academic year, students from households with incomes up to $100,000 are eligible. Next year the income limit will jump to $110,000, and it will increase again to $125,000 in 2019-20. The program requires students to be in college full-time and complete 30 credits per year. It also includes controversial residency and work requirements after graduation.

CICU argues that private, nonprofit colleges should be more involved in efforts to improve higher education in New York, framing the issue as one of student choice.

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