By Lilyen McCarthy
Classes are getting smaller, if not, canceled, and university officials are concerned.
Adelphi University, like universities across the country, has seen an overall decrease in undergraduate enrollment in the last five years. According to Kristen Capezza, vice president of enrollment management and university communications, AU undergraduate enrollment has dropped 6 percent since 2018.
The university continues to follow nationwide trends and compare those national numbers to its own. The Covid-19 pandemic caused a large decline in college enrollment, but university officials also account for other explanations for enrollment decline.
“Overall counts and demographics of high school graduates are declining and shifting,” said Capezza. “Annual births of college-bound students have been declining for some time, meaning there are fewer students in the pool to be recruited to colleges 17 years later.”
According to Capezza, first-year enrollment nationwide has declined by 7.9 percent since fall 2020, but Adelphi has seen a 16.6 percent increase in the same period.
Two other important factors have affected enrollment on campus. Capezza reported that international enrollment has decreased due to unfavorable political legislation and Covid-19. She explained that the pandemic reduced access to the United States, making their enrollment recovery more difficult. Legislation during the Trump Administration looked to reduce Optional Practical Training, which is important for the university’s international students to continue their career after receiving their education.
The other factor comes from the declining nursing program numbers.
“We intentionally reduced the size of our incoming nursing class,” said Capezza. “To respond to shortages [in clinical placement sites] and these capacity limits, we had to maintain a smaller incoming nursing class.”
Adelphi’s nursing students accounted for 1,537 out of the 5,055 enrolled undergraduate students. An overall 7 percent decline in nursing enrollment over the last five years due to these intentional decreases greatly affects Adelphi’s overall numbers.
Humanities programs have taken the biggest enrollment decrease by percentage. Majors like drama, communications and English have decreased by 42, 29 and 21 percent, respectively.
Louise Geddes, English Department chair and professor, attributes her department’s enrollment decline to university cost and employment insecurity. “I think that we, especially post-pandemic, live in a world where people aren’t necessarily as adept at going out and finding their own kind of jobs or their career path,” Geddes said. “And when college is this expensive, I think it’s difficult to think ‘I will graduate with a rough sense of the field that I will go into, and I will try a job in that field… and if it doesn’t work out, I’ll try something else.’”
Geddes offered the example that a business degree seems to offer a more direct correlation to the workplace, as it teaches a specific skill set. Business, however, locks a student into a particular career path. The assumed certainty of employment after college makes business seem like the safer option, she said.
“We have a decent level of transfers,” Geddes said about the English program’s enrollment. “They came to school to do business because that’s what they agreed with their parents, and then they get to a point they do want to transfer over.”
The Communications Department sees the same kind of transfer trend, also not having a high first-year rate but a higher enrollment after students’ first year at school. Department chair Peggy Cassidy commented on the amount of transfer forms she signs during the spring semester, but she added the enrollment issue for her department differs from the English Department.
Cassidy notes that in the 1990s and early 2000s, communications was a popular major. While the degree continues to be popular and offers a variety of opportunities, there’s a lot of competition from other institutions.
“It just happens I would say in the past 10 years or so some of these other programs that are big competitors with us have been prioritizing, in some way, their communication programs, whether it’s fancy new facilities or new programming with different degrees,” Cassidy said.
As a smaller program, 88 enrolled students as of fall 2022, new facilities for the department are not the top priority. The issue for the Communications Department is not that they do not know how to be more competitive.
“It’s not that our facilities are limited; it’s that we have what we need, but we need to be really good,” said Cassidy. “We happen to be asking [for facility updates] at a point when budgets are so tight, that it’s not for a lack of knowing.”
Cassidy also attributes enrollment struggles to the direct competition with the university’s Psychology Department. With the mental health crisis and a huge interest shift to psychology, the younger generation is moving to that degree, she said. Psychology enrollment has increased by 27 percent in the last five years, seeing a 398 undergraduate enrollment in fall 2022.
“You can’t just assume anymore in the Communications Department that you’re just going to get people no matter what you do or don’t do,” Cassidy said.
Another department experiencing growth is the Computer Science Department, which has seen a 55 percent increase in undergraduate enrollment; 212 undergraduates enrolled in the program as of fall 2022.
Adelphi is working to mitigate these factors by various actions. Capezza said the university is expanding to new geographic markets, recruiting students from more than 40 states and 70 countries, launching new programs at the undergraduate and graduate level such as health sciences and computer science, respectively, and growing online programs to meet demands for online modality.
Outside of program demand, the university continues to expand tools to support retention and progression like targeting underserved populations with the mentoring program.
Senior film student Noah Moss has been a part of the Communications Department for four years. He started his college career before the Covid-19 pandemic and will graduate in December, having made it through school during the pandemic. For him, enrollment hasn’t been an issue.
“Being a part of a small department has its ups and downs, but I enjoy the close relationships it allows me to make with my professors,” Moss said. “Especially in communications, having a smaller class leads to better discussion.” Meanwhile, the number of undeclared majors has decreased by 24 percent with a total of 212 students as of the fall who have yet to choose one of Adelphi’s majors.