Area colleges weather feared COVID enrollment drop

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Colleges in Oneida County appear to have avoided a large downturn in enrollment that many people in higher education had feared as the COVID-19 pandemic threatened life on campuses earlier in the year.

Mohawk Valley Community College’s enrollment is down about 9% this year, slightly less than other community colleges in the State University of New York System, college President Randall VanWagoner told the Oneida County Board of Legislators Economic Development Committee on Tuesday, Nov. 10.

VanWagoner was asked about college enrollment as he briefed the Oneida County Board of Legislators’ Economic Development Committee Tuesday, Nov. 10.

The committee was renewing contract renewals with college bargaining units. Associations representing professionals, administrators and adjunct and part-time instructors agreed to either extend their current agreements for a year without an increase in wages or to forgo contractual raises this year. VanWagoner thanked the members of the bargaining units for helping college finances, and said together they represent a savings of about $300,000.

On Wednesday, Nov. 11, college spokesman Alen Smajic provided elaboration. MVCC is down 2.9% in headcount and 8.5% in full-time-equivalent, according to Smajic. “Given that the College budgeted to be down 4% and thanks to the support we’ve received from our labor partners and other cost-reduction measures we’ve made for this fiscal year, it is indeed a manageable figure,” he added.

The decline is consistent with community colleges across the country as reported last month by the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center, which reported a 9.4% decline. Four-year college enrollment was down about 1.4%, the organization said as it reported on whether fears from earlier in the year that college enrollment would dip because of restrictions on campus life would materialize.

At Utica College, enrollment as of early October stood at 2,268 among total undergraduates on the Utica campus, down about 4% from 2019. Freshman enrollment on the main campus was 505, down from 515 in 2019. Graduate enrollment was down about 10% overall, or 7% on a full-time equivalent basis.

Utica College also has extension nursing programs in Florida.

At SUNY Polytechnic Institute’s Utica area campus, fall enrollment is 3,061, highest ever since 1981, and up from 3,002 a year ago, according to SUNY. First-term full time enrollment was 551, compared to 405 a year earlier.

At Hamilton College, 470 students are in the first-year class, similar to the range of 470 to 480 over the past five years. Of them, 32 deferred start to January, when another 41 first-year students are expected, according to Vige Barrie, senior director of media relations.

The colleges have been relatively free of COVID-19 outbreaks, though some concern has arisen recently.

Utica College reported 18 current positive cases among students. Among them were five positive tests each on Nov. 3 and 9, and four on Nov. 5. No employees are currently positive. College President Laura Casamento announced Monday that students traveling outside the six counties of the Mohawk Valley are to submit a travel report, and that any students leaving the region are to submit proof of a negative COVID-19 test before returning to campus. Exceptions to both rules are made for students commuting back and forth daily. Travel to state-designated orange and red zones are prohibited.

On Wednesday, Nov. 11, Casamento announced 11 new cases were identified among students in the previous 24 hours, and announced that rapid diagnostic tests given in North Hall found two more cases there. New measures announced include limiting on-campus gatherings outside of classes to four people, the main dining hall is going to take-out only, common spaces in residence halls are closed, occupancy will be reduced in the campus fitness center, and events, including athletics-related activities are paused.

Other area colleges haven’t reported a recent uptick in cases. Hamilton College in Clinton reported one active case among students as of Wednesday, Nov. 11, Mohawk Valley Community College three since Oct. 24, and SUNY Polytechnic Institute three.

At MVCC, four commuter students have tested positive in all, and none was on campus long, and no secondary cases were reported so far, VanWagoner told the county legislative committee. No cases have been reported so far among residence hall students, where capacity is reduced and half of residents are tested weekly. All units are single-occupancy, with no roommates. Eighty percent of classes are taught remotely, with the remaining 20% primarily technical and lab-based, he added.

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