By Gabriela Flores
Total enrollment of students continues dropping at Brooklyn College and other CUNY colleges. This fall term, BC has an 11% decrease in total enrollment from fall 2021, with those pursuing an undergraduate degree falling by 14.19% and total graduate degree-seekers decreasing by 2.55%. The enrollment decline is backdropped by COVID challenges in recruitment and retention of students.
“We have a problem, but we can’t be fixated on the problem per say. And what I mean by that is, if we’re not doing anything about it, for sure we’ll probably have problems,” said Louis Di Meglio, president of the Graduate Student Organization. “But if we try to take certain steps between now, and then we can at least see what works and what doesn’t.”
BC’s enrollment decline follows a 1.1% national drop in undergraduate enrollment across the country this fall, NPR reported. Though this rate is an improvement in comparison to recent drops induced by COVID, it comes after college enrollment lowered by more than one million students in two years. At CUNY, the total university’s enrollment has approximately 31,000 fewer students this 2022 fiscal year than the enrollment during its 2018 fiscal year, the Gothamist reported. Today, BC’s total enrollment has steadily lowered from 17,006 students in spring 2020, when the university shut down due to the pandemic, to 14,185 this fall 2022 term.
“I don’t necessarily see this as a trajectory that would continue. Especially if people are actively trying to prevent it from happening,” said Aharon Grama, president of the Undergraduate Student Government who forms part of the Prospective Student Yield Committee. “So we need to do investigative work and understand where the college is doing that.”
For fall 2022, the college had an enrollment target of 15,434 students, which was computed by analyzing enrollment trends from the past several years across freshmen, transfer, and graduate student populations at BC.
“The continuing student population is also factored into the total enrollment targets. The COVID-19 pandemic has unfortunately had a huge impact on enrollment targets,” Richard Pietras, the college’s media relations manager, told the Vanguard. Forecasts of high school and community college graduates, who could become incoming transfer students, are also considered.
To address the enrollment challenges, BC hired SEM Works, a company that aids with strategic enrollment management. One of the efforts that the college is looking to improve, according to Grama, is simplifying the web pages and interest forms that prospective students may navigate through when searching across the college’s programs. Student government representatives also aim to aid with recruitment of prospective students alongside Lillian O’Reilly, BC’s Vice President in Enrollment Management and Retention. In having students engage with other students, USG and GSO plan to help boost enrollment.
“Just in general we want to help in any way possible,” said Grama.
In spring 2022, 1,785 undergraduates and 603 graduate students received their degrees. Non-SEEK undergraduates who are continuing their degrees at Brooklyn College declined from 9,242 in fall 2021 to 7,725 this fall. The number of continuing graduate students increased to 1,537 students this term, in comparison to last fall semester with 1,496 students. To aid with retaining continuing students, the college continues to offer its resources such as the Magner Career Center, student affairs including personal counseling, and other services that could support degree completion, Pietras explained. Student government representatives are also focusing on sustaining the college’s student life and clubs. For graduate students specifically, Di Meglio is looking to increase the student activity fee through a referendum.
“If we have the funding, then graduate students will have the extra support they need to fulfill their graduate needs and help them graduate and get jobs. So for me personally, if we’re able to pull this off, that’d be great,” Di Meglio said.
With fewer online class offerings, and a growing interest of Americans to pursue jobs over college, some think that the college’s enrollment decline could be attributed to factors besides the pandemic.
“I think in general there’s a mentality where people are sitting at home and thinking, ‘What’s the point of this?’” said Grama.
Though BC faced a total enrollment decline this fall, its total entering freshmen in SEEK, a program that aims to bring an equal opportunity to higher education for economically disadvantaged students, has increased to 139 students.
“We are excited about the increase in entering students in the SEEK program. The college worked hard to increase recruitment efforts to attract students to the SEEK program and to encourage students admitted to the program to attend,” said Pietras. “The SEEK department did extensive outreach to the SEEK applicants and works vigorously to make the process as streamlined as possible for the students.”
Non-SEEK freshman enrollment has increased by 3.82% since last fall.