Samuel Northrup, Editor-in-Chief
Following the first full year of implementation for the Excelsior Scholarship — New York State’s initiative to make public college tuition for SUNY and CUNY schools free — Utica College’s fall 2018 class is showing early signs of defying expectations.
Despite concerns from private institutions across New York about the effect free public tuition would have on enrollment, UC’s incoming class has exhibited a surprising trend ahead of National Decision Day on May 1 — despite fall applications being down 26 percent as of mid-April, enrollment deposits are up 33 percent compared to fall 2017.
The trend comes seven months after The Tangerine reported on a decline in enrollment numbers at the start of the 2017-2018 academic year.
While positive, the increased deposit numbers have left college officials with short-run optimism and long-run caution in the age of Excelsior.
“This is the second year of the Excelsior Scholarship, so people that want to move in that direction have, but I think what is happening with us is that even though we have fewer applications we have more serious applicants,” explained President Laura Casamento. “I think that the data is showing us that the people who are applying to Utica College are very serious about attending Utica College, and that’s why we’re seeing a higher yield than we would have projected.”
According to Jeffery Gates, senior vice president for student life and enrollment management, UC is projecting a fall 2018 class size between 580 to 600 students. These numbers, Gates explained, are also anomalies when compared to nearby institutions.
“If I had to guess, many schools from the few that I’ve talked with, that some of the VPs and deans of admission I have talked to are not seeing the trend that we are,” Gates said. “Most of them are seeing a decrease in both areas.”
As the head of enrollment at UC, Gates explained the trend could be attributed to the college’s appeal to “cash conscious” students looking for a small-school experience.
“You are going to pay more than a public institution [at UC], but think of all the benefits you get in terms of small class sizes, one-on-one interactions with faculty and having access to Career Services from day one,” he said. “The team here has a four-year plan for students to guide you through not only career exploration but personality as well.”
As college officials are still analyzing data, there are two things Provost and Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs John Johnsen attributed to enrollment success at private institutions like UC: offering majors and extracurricular activities that appeal to students and doing so at an affordable price that makes sense to students.
“Before the tuition reset, we were at a point where students weren’t at a good place to evaluate the tuition proposition,” Johnsen explained. “We were charging very high tuition and paying lots of aid, so virtually no student was paying the so-called sticker price, but many students were not looking at us because they thought that (the sticker price) was what they were going to have to pay.”
Despite the positive trend for UC’s next class, Johnsen explained non-elite private institutions will continue to face a “difficult environment” in the coming decades due to sheer operating expenses and the changing “regulatory environment” both public and private colleges face.
“It’s a complicated environment, and institutions like Utica College, unless they’re growing and developing and striving to meet the demands of the market, they’re going to fall behind,” Johnsen said.
Nearing the end of her second full academic year as president of UC, Casamento emphasized that while the data collected was a positive sign it is still necessary for the college to be cautious and practice “prudent planning” for the future.
“Private institutions that are tuition dependent are always worrying about finances,” she said. “This one year doesn’t make a trend, so you don’t know [about the future] because you don’t have a trend [this year].”