NCCC sees year-to-year enrollment increase

After years of enrollment decline, NCCC's numbers improve for third semester in a row

North Country Community College Massage Therapy students Keri Walker, George Tarbell and Daniel Deis talk with Program Director Jennifer Barrett during a class in River Street Hall in Saranac Lake (Provided photo)

SARANAC LAKE — North Country Community College saw a higher enrollment at the start of the spring semester than it did at that time last year — making it the third consecutive semester to have enrollment higher than the year before.

NCCC President Joe Keegan said this marks a time when the college is coming out of a dark period and into a time when it can focus on building for the future. It took a lot of hard work to get to this point, he said.

NCCC Marketing and Enrollment Vice President Kyle Johnston said NCCC had a long period of declining enrollment for around 20 years. He said college staff have been working for years to flip this trend, and it finally happened last year. Enrollment means more money for the college.

Keegan said the college’s strategic enrollment plan to identify pockets of students they weren’t serving or could better serve — to open NCCC up to more people who otherwise wouldn’t be able to come — has worked. The college also saw a strong year in support from philanthropic donors and public money. And he praised the college’s faculty and staff for making students feel welcome and find success, which helps with retention.

The college started the spring semester with 617 students, 8% higher than the 568 students enrolled at that time in 2023.

Of these 617 students, 449 were returning students and 168 were incoming students. Johnston said this is a 21% rise in incoming students from the 2023 spring semester, according to NCCC Communications Director Chris Knight.

Of the incoming students, 36 are first-time students — two more than last year; 78 are readmitted students — 16 more than last year; and 54 are transfer students — 17 more than last year.

Johnston said the rise in transfer students is the strongest NCCC has had in the past 10 years.

NCCC has campuses in Saranac Lake, Malone and Ticonderoga. This spring, there are 244 students in Saranac Lake, up from 225 from the spring of 2023; 157 in Malone, up from 116; and 48 in Ticonderoga, up from 46. Johnston said the spike of online learning brought on by the coronavirus pandemic is slowing and more students are move back to on-campus learning. Online-only enrollment dropped to 168, down from 181.

The college has frozen its tuition fees since 2019, so students are still paying the $2,640 per semester they paid back then. Out of state residents pay $3,960 per semester. But Johnston said the college’s board of trustees approved a 2% increase to tuition to take effect in the fall semester. This is a tuition increase to keep up with the rising costs of inflation, Knight said, costs the college has been eating for the past few years.

The 2% increase will bring state residing students’ tuition to $2,692 and out of state students’ to $4,039.

Enrollment numbers were lower than at the start of the fall semester, which Johnston said is typical for colleges.

NCCC’s application volume also increased for the fourth consecutive semester. The college got 434 applications, up 35% from 321 at this time last year.

Classes started on Jan. 22.


Johnston said the fact that NCCC’s new expanded registered nurse licensing program filled up immediately in its first year was a “game-changer.” NCCC Interim Vice President of Academic Affairs Sarah Maroun said this program, which is for licensed practical nurses to prepare for their RN board certification exam, is unique in two ways: it has a spring-start in January, which allows people to start at a different time of year and graduate at the end of the fall semester; and it is an evening and weekend course, which is something they had heard was needed from the community.

“I think those more flexible offerings have been really helpful,” he said.

Many LPNs work during the day and would have to quit their job to prepare for an RN license, or pass up on that opportunity. Maroun said the college got approval through the state Office of the Professions and financial support through a SUNY High Needs grant to hold online synchronous lectures in the evenings during the week and clinicals at the hospitals on weekends. Maroun said for many of the students currently in the program, it would have been hard for them to do this without the schedule change.

“It’s really cool. And it was really popular,” Maroun said.

Johnston said the program can hold 29 students and it got 80 applications in a four-week span — so many that they had to shut down the application process, because this was more than they had spots for.

“That’s a really, really good problem to have,” he said.

He attributed the high number of readmitted and transfer students this semester to this nursing program. There was demand for the license preparation, flexible hours and a spring start, as well as a growing demand for nurses in the region.

Students in this program also each got a portion of a $14,000 nursing scholarship the college offered this year and were the first cohort to use the college’s new clinical lab space.


Joshnston said that this year, the college has more scholarship money available through donations, grants and its foundation. He said this is “huge for students” and has let him market the scholarship programs hard this year, as they are a strong draw for students.

NCCC has around $58,000 in new scholarships — $25,630 for 20 students through the “6 on Us” program, $5,750 for seven students through the Human and Emergency Services program, $14,000 for 28 students in the spring-start nursing program and $13,000 for 30 students through the “Opportunity” program.

The human and emergency services scholarship was funded through $50,000 opioid settlement money won in lawsuits against the pharmaceutical companies behind the opioid crisis. Franklin County distributed this money, which will provide students up to $4,000 over four semesters.

Other programs

Maroun said the college is also focusing on microcredentials, which are less than a degree but also less than a semester of work. They are certifications or specific skill sets for particular fields.

This year, NCCC introduced three levels of new microcredentials for direct support professionals, or people who work with people with developmental disabilities.

Maroun said there is a shortage of these workers for people with developmental disabilities and the goal of this program is to encourage people to get into that field, or to help people already in that field improve their income through new positions.

The microcredentials can be folded into a one-year certificate, then a two-year human services degree and then four-year programs. At any point, someone can start working, and they haven’t made a multi-year commitment. Maroun said this is to get people into the field faster, or allow them to tackle a degree in smaller chunks.

It’s also less financially risky, she said, because they can keep their job through the process.

Students in this program also are eligible for a grant from the state Office for People With Developmental Disabilities which pays for their courses and books.

Maroun said they will start their first cohort of 20 students in March.

The college has a “bridge program” for high school students to take college courses through dual enrollment. There are 798 projected high school students in this program this year.

The college’s Second Chance Pell program allows inmates at local prisons in Ray Brook and Malone to take courses taught by NCCC faculty. The program allows someone with a felony conviction the chance to be hired when they are released. It is for people who are going to be released soon, with the goal of giving them a successful return to society.

There are 126 projected inmate students in the Second Chance Pell program this year, up from 106 in the fall.

At the start of the fall semester, the college had 696 students, a 2% increase from last year’s 685 students on opening day.


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