Economy drives more students toward state colleges

Rebecca Croniser

The economy is leading more to apply at area state and community colleges as students look for education bargains.

Meanwhile, some local private schools are seeing applications drop by as much as 17 percent.

“That’s really happening nationwide,” said Maria Fallon-Hale, a senior consultant with AdmissionsConsultants Inc. in Virginia.

“The economy is the real driving force. Students are applying more to the flagship state schools or even community colleges because of the perceived cost of private schools.”

Utica resident Terri Humphreys, 19, is one of those who have recently changed their college plans.

Humphreys said she changed her plans of going to a four-year college and instead will take classes at Mohawk Valley Community College.

“It really comes down to what can I afford,” she said.

Humphreys took a year off from school last year but said she will start classes in the fall.

“I think if I would have gone to college last year, I probably would have chosen a state school,” she said.

Community colleges are seeing the largest influx of applicants, officials said.

“Community colleges are very affordable and very attractive when compared even to the SUNY schools,” said Richard Haubert, assistant director of communications at Mohawk Valley Community College.

MVCC has seen the largest increase in applications — 35 percent — in the area.

HCCC is not far behind; applications to the school are up 18 percent.

Applying more places

An increase in applications might not lead to an increase in the fall enrollment at all of the schools, however.

Instead, students are considering more options.

“Students are being more savvy, searching for colleges that are a good fit and have a good financial package for them,” said Tom VerDow, director of admissions at Morrisville State.

Morrisville State has seen a 12 percent increase in the number of freshmen applications and 34 percent in the number of transfer applications.

“Instead of applying to two or three colleges, they’re applying to five or six,” he said.

That’s what Thomas R. Proctor High School senior Tina Lopez did, she said.

“I applied to six colleges, most in the state, but also one in Florida,” she said. “It cost more money to apply to all of them, but I wanted to see what kind of money and financial aid they could give me.”

While Utica College has seen a 2 percent increase in applicants, Vice President of Enrollment Management Patrick Quinn said he did not think the economy stopped students from applying.

But it could impact enrollment.

“The financial aid process will have more of an impact on whether a student decides to enroll,” he said. “Students are still evaluating their finances and over the summer may decide that they can’t afford to start at a four-year college.”

SUNYIT director of admissions Jennifer Ninh said this year she has received more requests for extensions in the deadline to send in a deposit for fall classes, because students want to review their financial aid packages.

“The final decision, especially, is over financial aid,” she said.

A stronger group

Hamilton and Colgate saw the biggest decrease in applicants this year, but each said they still had relatively high numbers.

Hamilton College saw an 8 percent decrease in the number of applicants this year, but it was still the third largest applicant pool for the college.

Colgate University saw a drop of 17 percent.

“It’s not our largest pool, but it’s our strongest,” said Colgate Vice President and Dean of Admission Gary Ross.

“I think the tougher economic times caused people to think more closely about where they were going to apply and they decided to apply at those schools where there is a greater likelihood of being accepted.”

Older students

The economy is also leading to more enrollments among non-traditional students, school officials said.

“When the economy is weak, people turn to community colleges for retraining and retooling for new fields that are emerging,” Haubert said.

He said MVCC has seen a large increase in adult learners.

So have other schools.

Utica School of Commerce, whose students are typically between ages 24 and 27, has seen a 25 percent increase in applicants.

“More people are definitely interested in pursuing further education,” said Leslie Crosley, USC director of admissions.

“Education is more important in an economic downturn. Our program is career oriented and people need … skills that will get the job.”

Observer-Dispatch