COVID killed college? NJ public schools report record enrollment
Following years of concern over whether the coronavirus pandemic would cause a permanent dent in applications to and enrollment at four-year colleges, a handful of institutions across New Jersey are reporting record enrollment numbers for the fall 2022 semester.
"It's sort of contrary to everything you've read, about how there's a huge cliff and nobody's going to college anymore," Montclair State University President Jonathan Koppell said.
Montclair State welcomed 4,065 students to campus this month, the largest first-year class on record for the public institution. With that, the university is handling its largest ever student body, at more than 21,600.
Kean, Rowan, and New Jersey Institute of Technology also broke enrollment records with their incoming Class of 2026 students. At NJIT, the count of first-year students this fall is up 30% from last year.
Compared to last year, the number of applications jumped by more than 3,500 for Stockton University, which this fall recorded its second largest first-year class.
Bob Heinrich, vice president of enrollment management at Stockton, said with fewer COVID concerns over the past year, the university was able to get in front of students to promote the campus. At the same time, more prospective students and their families were visiting the grounds for tours and open-house events.
"We knew the interest was there. It was just a matter of working with them, to get them enrolled and registered, ready to start this fall," Heinrich said.
This past spring, Heinrich predicted that enrollment declines in 2020 and 2021 would be "a blip."
According to figures from the Office of the Secretary of Higher Education, total enrollment at public colleges and universities in the state fell by 3.1% in fall 2021, compared to 2020, after dipping by 0.7% the year prior. Private institutions experienced a dip of more than 3.5% over the two years, while community colleges saw their enrollment numbers drop by more than 18%.
“Early signs of strong enrollment trends suggest that there is still a robust demand for a four-year college degree," said Eugene Lepore, executive director of the New Jersey Association of State Colleges and Universities. "Students and families are identifying our state’s senior public colleges and universities as an affordable, quality choice with a strong return on investment."
When reached for comment, not many private institutions had enrollment statistics to share with New Jersey 101.5. Monmouth University said its first-year class this year is smaller than last year's. Rider University's first-year enrollment jumped 21% this year compared to last, but the count remains below pre-pandemic levels.