CUNY and Queens College Institute New Initiatives to Address Declining Enrollment

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Within the last few years CUNY has struggled to cope with its declining student enrollment figures. As CUNY and Queens College cope with wider fiscal challenges both institutions have made increasing enrollment a top priority.

To date, CUNY’s enrollment has declined by a total of 17% since 2019, which accounts for a total enrollment headcount decline of 274,904 students from the 2019 fiscal year to 225,881 in the 2023 fiscal year.

Student enrollment plays an important role in ensuring and maintaining the financial stability of each of the individual CUNY colleges. In a statement given to The Knight News Jennifer Jarvis, vice president for student affairs and enrollment management at Queens College expanded on this:

“Our enrollment numbers have a direct impact on the college’s operational budget which supports student services and personnel expenses. The ability for the college to replace employees upon separation and retirement has been delayed. The college will continue to evaluate cost-effective methods to provide the campus community with services to support daily operations that maintain our quality academic standing,”

Although Queens College is tied with its Spring 2022 semester for the largest freshman class it has had within the last 23 years, the college still is struggling to reach its needed total enrollment targets.

According to the National Center of Education Statistics, Queens College had a total enrollment of 17,001 in the Fall of 2022. This semester, Queens College reached an actual enrollment of 16,500 students out of its target enrollment figure of 17,600 students, according to Vice President Jarvis.

“This is a tough time for us, CUNY, for higher education,” President Frank Wu told The Knight News in October. “We’re in a mode now where we need to move [from] about 17,000 students to about 20,000.”

Wu explained that the Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund (HEERF) helped QC close out the last fiscal year with a positive balance. Chief Financial Officer Joseph Loughren Jr. confirmed that the HEERF funding has officially expired.
So what has caused the enrollment decline?

Since the pandemic, CUNY and Queens College have struggled with enrollment figures. However, COVID-19 is not the only factor contributing to the decline in student enrollment.

The CUNY fiscal year 2024 budget request cites a 16% decrease in population aged 15-19 between 2010 and 2019, and a 10% decrease in ages 20-24. The request has also cited a “growing perception that higher education no longer serves as a route to the middle class for many students” as one of the causes for the recent decline in enrollments.

In the October 2nd CUNY Board of Trustees Committee on Finance & Administration meeting minutes, the board outlined their plan to allocate $7.6 million towards increasing enrollment from the $50 million CUNY received as non-recurring transformational funds from the 2024 New York State Enacted Budget.

“The funds in this category will focus on enrollment, specifically related to targeting specific enrollment markets, increasing the applicant pool, removing application barriers, and increasing the number of students that enroll at CUNY,” the planned allocation says.

CUNY plans to allocate the majority of the $7.6 million to fund the following key initiatives: university-wide marketing ($4.5 million), Campus Grants to Support College Enrollment Strategies ($1.25 million), application fee waivers ($1 million), and a refugee enrollment pipeline ($.5 million).

What is Queens College specifically doing to increase enrollment?

As a part of the 1.25 million CUNY allocated towards Campus Grants to Support College Enrollment Strategies initiative, Vice President Jarvis expanded upon this.

“Campuses are provided with an opportunity to submit grant requests to enhance our unique campus strategies. QC’s grant request includes funding to enhance our overall communication process with current and prospective students (texting, resource materials), funding to increase our student ambassador program by offering stipends, and funding to create a transfer orientation program,” she said.

Queens College has also seen a great amount of success enrolling students as a part of CUNY’s Reconnect program, which seeks to recruit adult students who wish to complete their undergraduate degree. “QC experienced the second-highest student enrollment across CUNY for this program,” said Vice President Jarvis.

Although Queens College has seen moderate success in increasing enrollment through CUNY programs such the CUNY Reconnect Program, the college is still quite a means away from reaching their total necessary goal of reaching a total enrolled headcount of 20,000 students.

Although CUNY has allocated $7.6 million towards increasing enrollment, it is still too early to say what the outcomes of its initiatives will be, but hopefully with the right execution these initiatives can help increase enrollment.

“QC has also expanded its recruitment efforts beyond the five boroughs … hosting virtual recruitment events for both undergrad and graduate students and by increasing our social media presence,” said Vice President Jarvis. “QC is excited to have visitors back on campus; therefore, we have increased the number of campus tours and expanded our marketing campaign to local transportation hubs.”


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