CUNY’s enrollment drop comes as no surprise


City University of New York | Flickr

Jahlil Rush, Production Assistant

CUNY schools are famous for their ability to launch the careers of students who hail from humble beginnings. Hearing the individual stories of students dropping out is heartbreaking and CUNY must ensure that all students are supported as the COVID-19 pandemic progresses.

Students like Brissabany Herrera, a now-former LaGuardia Community College student, dropped out due to the financial troubles caused by COVID-19.

Herrera told THE CITY about her lack of resources, including no internet access, which prevented her from joining her fellow CUNY classmates in remote learning.

“I didn’t have internet,” she said. “And I couldn’t find any way to attend.”

New York City is not the only place where there is a decrease in college enrollment. More than one million fewer students are enrolled in college than before the pandemic, NPR reported. Community college enrollment has been down 13% nationwide since fall 2019.

CUNY’s community colleges were no exception. Data released from the Office of Institutional Research at CUNY found that the number of first-year students declined by 11% from fall 2019 to fall 2020.

The data found a pattern that men were the most effected; their enrollment dropped by 17.7%.

Some students grew accustomed to the idea of remote learning. It created more flexibility in time management for those who were fortunate to remain employed during the rough months of the pandemic.

But with CUNY making many of its classes in-person, students are once again facing the dilemma of choosing between returning to the classroom or working at their jobs.

University Provost Daniel Lemons correctly placed blame for the enrollment drop on the pandemic.

“Unemployment in New York is still double the national average, and that’s a lot in the lower-paying jobs and many of our students are in those jobs,” said Lemons.

It is safe to argue that the nation’s job market is a wild card. The public continues to debate over whether the pandemic is over with states lifting mask mandates.

At one point during the pandemic, Queens was the epicenter of COVID-19 cases, which makes the drop in enrollment even more heartbreaking. It is not shocking to hear that colleges like LaGuardia Community College, where only 12,187 students enrolled in fall 2021, would be dramatically affected by COVID-19’s onslaught.

CUNY’s enrollment drop can be interpreted as potential students holding off on starting their academic journeys until the pandemic settles down.

Some students may not want to deal with the politics of adhering to mask mandates in classrooms, a place that New York City Mayor Eric Adams said were the safest places for students in January.

The mayor was referring to New York City students in K-12 education at the time, leaving CUNY students wondering if they were included or not.

The nation is also dealing with vaccine hesitation and some of those refusing to take the vaccine may also be college students. CUNY has implemented a vaccine mandate that some students have disagreed with.

Fall 2021 enrollment numbers have not been released yet, but those numbers should serve as an indicator of whether college life has truly returned to CUNY.

While the enrollment drop was an expected result of a devastating pandemic, CUNY can only look towards its future as COVID-19 cases begin to decrease. The New York City college system must assure its future student body that their financial and medical needs will be met by attending one of its campuses in post-pandemic New York City.