Enrollment numbers down in economic crisis

By BenitaZepeda

In the midst of the current financial crisis gripping the nation, the enrollment numbers for the fall 2009 semester are down for the first time in 25 years, according to Vice President of Student Affairs Mark Kelly.

“We had a net drop of 384 new undergraduate students compared to last year,” Kelly said. “I will point out that this is still, without question, the largest concentration of young creative talent entering any college in the country, but it is a sobering moment for Columbia.”

The numbers, which were released on Sept. 16, show that there has been a significant drop in enrollment of new freshman and transfer students, but a rise in continuing students.

New student enrollment, which includes freshmen, transfers, Post-Baccalaureate Certificate of Major candidates and new students-at-large, decreased 11 percent compared with the previous year.

Graduate student enrollment has decreased by 11.7 percent, or by a total of 71 students. The decrease in graduate students was expected because almost all of the graduate programs are capped on the number of students accepted, and the Arts, Entertainment and Media Management graduate program shrunk its incoming class by 20 students.

However, continuing students was the only group to increase, by 1.5 percent, which equates to 118 more students than fall 2008.

Gigi Posejpal, director of International Student Affairs, said that even though she has yet to receive the official numbers for the international program, she is hopeful that the numbers have increased.

“I have got more international students total than I did last year,” Posejpal said.  “Even though it is not a lot, our numbers have slightly improved with the international population.”

Kelly said, even with the downturn, this semester’s freshman class is still the third largest in Columbia history.

“It’s modestly under our fall 2007 class,” Kelly said.  “Perspective is pretty important in this.”

He urges that this isn’t a story unique to Columbia. The problem is not with wanting to attend Columbia, but is simply aparents are struggling to find ways to balance the cost of living and the cost of higher education.

Unfortunately, with education costs on the rise and household incomes not

matching that increase, more students are choosing community and public

institutions over private.

“All of the community colleges in this area, we’re hearing quotes of 30 – 40 percent increases in enrollments, and all of the state colleges are full and having to reject students because they don’t have room for them,” Kelly said.  “We think our story is not going to be unique at all for private colleges.”

Columbia has seen a five percent increase in applications this semester, which

suggests that the financial crisis is the reason behind the decline.

Kelly is predicting a surge of transfer students once the economic climate improves. Students may be staying at their community colleges longer to try and offset the high costs of private institutions.

Eric Winston, vice president of

Institutional Advancement, said the college is taking action to ease the financial strain on our students.

“Scholarship Columbia is our effort to raise current dollars to give out to students for scholarships,” Winston said. “We are working feverishly to contact alumni to ask them if they would donate scholarship funds that the college will match so we can give students funds to attend school.”

Despite the fact that Columbia’s tuition may be lower than the tuition of other

private universities, there are very few scholarships and even fewer grants available to students.

“We’re desperately trying to change that,” Winston said.

This fall, Columbia has awarded approximately 600 students with scholarships, which is double the amount of scholarships awarded in fall 2007.

“Families are making the decisions ‘We can’t afford this’ or ‘We can’t assume this debt,’” Kelly said. “It’s very unclear of where that job market is and some data suggests that one of the more dynamic areas will continue to be communications, media and art-related, but that doesn’t mean people won’t still be cautious and that could be driving some of this, too.”

Although he didn’t have direct solutions to how the college will be responding to the impact on individual budgets, Columbia President Warrick L. Carter will be issuing a statement soon on how the college will be responding to the challenges at hand.

“The students aren’t going to see a difference in their lives on the campus because of those budget cuts, but the college does have some tough decisions in front of it,” Kelly said.