Enrollment’s down at NCCC, but numbers are better than expected
SARANAC LAKE — Enrollment at North Country Community College continues to decline, in keeping with a downward trend across the nation. Nevertheless, college officials said the numbers are better than they had hoped for, and given the general climate for higher education, they consider it good news.
“Flat is the new up,” said Dean of Admissions Chris Tacea.
Full-time-equivalent student enrollment at NCCC this fall semester is 985, which is above the college’s targeted budget enrollment of 975, said Chris Knight, director of communications for the college.
Including both part- and full-time students, enrollment this semester will crest above 2,000, according to college President Steve Tyrell. Total enrollment for the 2016-17 class was 2,159, in 2015-16 it was 2,175, and in 2014-15 it was 2,276.
Tacea said enrollment at NCCC is the result of many factors, and traditional ways of counting heads at a college don’t really match up.
“The number of non-matriculating students is skewed because of our college-in-the-high-school program,” Tacea said. Saranac Lake High School students can obtain college credit through NCCC courses taught in their school, but because these students don’t yet have high school diplomas, they aren’t counted as enrolled in a degree- or certificate-bearing program at NCCC.
According to the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center, enrollment at two-year public universities declined by 3.3 percent in spring 2016, 2.6 percent in fall 2016 and 2.5 percent in fall 2017.
Tacea said NCCC is a portal to higher education for many North Country residents.
“People are coming here to get their grades up prior to transferring to a four-year,” he said. “Or they come because they’re not sure if college is for them and they want to try it out. The biggest thing is to measure persistence. Even though they never complete a certificate, if they continue, that’s success.
“It’s been very difficult for a lot of colleges.”
Tacea noted that Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s Excelsior Scholarship — which ensures free tuition to state residents who enroll full-time at state universities, as long as their households make less than $100,000 a year and they agree to live in the state for the same number of years they use the scholarship — has exerted downward pressure on enrollment at private colleges throughout the state.
“We have very strong partnerships with SUNY, so we’re able to transfer students to a lot of places,” Tacea said. “That’s been a great lift for us.”
NCCC has adapted its course offerings to provide more online and hybrid courses, which help non-traditional students find the time to do college work, Tacea continued. The college’s strongest programs are nursing and its liberal arts and science-based general education.
“I tell students, we can give you a good foundation,” Tacea said. “You can get your core foundation and ladder up to a four-year.”
One positive trend this year is in the number of students entering college for the first time, which is up.
“The college has really embraced the philosophy that enrollment is everybody’s business,” Tacea said. “I see this as a result of all the yielding things we did over the summer.”
Professors and staff at NCCC have become ambassadors for the college in the community, he said, and that helps a lot.