HOPEWELL — Student enrollment at Finger Lakes Community College has declined by 19 percent in the last nine years.
In raw numbers, that means full- and part-time enrollment that was 6,935 in 2010 is now at 5,672. The decline is at the main campus in Hopewell and branch campuses in Geneva, Newark and Victor.
FLCC President Robert Nye said it’s important to look at an enrollment decline “as a matter of perspective.”
“Enrollment at a community college is cyclical. When you have an extended time of low unemployment, community college enrollment drops. When unemployment is higher, we have growth in enrollment,’’ Nye said.
“In addition, we are experiencing a decline in the population and birth rate in this area. There are simply fewer high school seniors graduating,’’ he added.
The State University of New York recently revealed the enrollment data for its 31 community colleges statewide from 2010 to 2019. FLCC’s drop, while significant, was less than four other regional community colleges. Tompkins-Cortland Community College in Dryden showed a 60 percent decline while enrollment at Monroe Community College in Rochester declined by 39 percent. The number of students at Genesee Community College in Batavia decreased by 29 percent and Cayuga Community College in Auburn saw its enrollment go down by 22 percent in the last 10 years.
Nye said FLCC must adapt flexibly to these numbers.
“We have to develop new programs to support the needs of the local economy. We’ve done that with new programs in health care fields, nursing, hotel and hospitality management, cyber-security and viticulture,’’ Nye said, noting with fewer graduating seniors, efforts are also being made to attract non-traditional older learners and to increase the number and scope of online degree programs.
“With the opening of the Lake House and another resort hotel on Canandaigua Lake this year, we feel we’ve helped meet that need for trained workers. The more our graduates stay to work in this area, the better,’’ he said.
Nye does not believe that tuition played a role in the declining enrollment, saying FLCC’s rates are competitive with other community colleges. Tuition rates have remained fairly stable in the past 10 years. For 2019-20, tuition is $5,158 for state residents and $7,450 for out-of-state residents. Just over 37 percent of FLCC students receive scholarship or grant aid, averaging $4,980 a year.
Lenore Friend, FLCC college spokeswoman, noted that for most community colleges, 2010 was an outlier, record enrollment year. She attributed that to the most significant financial downturn (the 2008 stock market crash) since the Great Depression.
“Many community colleges had to scramble to keep up with demand. A more accurate look would examine community college enrollment before and after the Great Recession,’’ she said. For example, Friend said from 2007 to 2017, FLCC enrollment would increase from 5,351 in 2007 to 6,356 in 2017.
“Enrollment at community colleges has always been cyclical, rising during recessions and falling during economic expansions. The decline in the number of traditional-aged students has been predicted for several years, so FLCC, like all community colleges, saw this on the horizon,’’ Friend said.
Community colleges routinely respond to current conditions and she said FLCC has focused on the rising demand for health care workers. The college’s health care studies degree, launched in the fall of 2017, is the college’s most popular degree program today. FLCC also announced in December that it plans to expand the nursing program, which has gained significant private sector support with a $3 million contribution from the Sands Family Foundation and a pledge from Thompson Health to provide a full-time instructor.
“We expect to begin admitting more nursing students in the fall of 2021. The demand is there already. It’s just a matter of building capacity,’’ Friend said.
FLCC is also forming new partnerships with Rochester Institute of Technology and St. John Fisher College.
The college also provides high school equivalency programs, non-credit job training and custom training for local employers.
“All told, FLCC provided education and training services to 8,731 people during the 2018-19 academic year,’’ Friend said.
Statewide, community college enrollment has declined by 23 percent, according to SUNY officials. Nationally, the American Association of Community Colleges shows a national decline of 14 percent between 2010 and 2017.