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Columbia continues to face decline in enrollment amid financial aid delays

Lukas Katilius

As expected, the college is on track to have fewer students in Fall 2024, although it’s still unclear just how much enrollment will drop.


Deposits from first-year and transfer students increased just slightly in May from the previous month, although first-year deposits are still down 46% compared to this time last year. Transfer students’ deposits are down 36%, the college reported on Wednesday, May 29 in an email from Derek Brinkley, assistant vice president in undergraduate admissions.


When comparing the student deposit number difference from the 2023 school year, the college has seen 771 less deposits from first-year students in fall of 2024.


Delays in federal financial aid are partly to blame. Other factors include the college dealing with fallout from the part-time faculty strike that occurred last fall and nationwide declines in the number of students going to college. 


The FAFSA delays meant Columbia was late in sending out financial aid award letters to students. It extended the priority enrollment deadline to June 1.


Brinkley said in the email that Admissions is now focused on providing resources to help families read their award letters and understand their options to cover the full cost of attending Columbia. Additionally, they are encouraging students to complete their FAFSA for this upcoming year. 


As the deadline approaches, the college’s ability to attract and secure students will rely on overcoming these challenges, and making sure that students feel informed and supported in their financial planning, he said.


As previously reported by the Chronicle, the college’s spring enrollment was reported at 5,757 students, which is a 12% decrease from Fall 2023 enrollment of 6,529. 


By the numbers: 


Admissions have seen a drop of 924 first-year applicants compared to this time last year. The college has also seen a drop of 257 transfer student applicants. According to the 2024 Admissions Report, in 2023 there were 9,208 applicants and of them 1,704 made deposits. This year, Columbia received 8,284 applicants but has only received 912 deposits. The college saw a 20% decrease in applicants in the Chicago area, something that could be attributed to the media coverage of the seven-week long part-time faculty strike. The number of applicants from year-to-year dropped from 2,419 to 1,917. The number of deposits is even lower. 


Although applicants outside of Illinois also saw a decrease of 8%, both the college and data suggested that media coverage had little effect.  


What students are saying:


Rising sophomore and graphic design major Dean Garcia expressed worry about the situation. 


“The FAFSA was really delayed, everyone was kind of screwed up because of that,” Garcia said “When class registration happened it was really overwhelming for a lot of people.”


The delays in financial aid are especially pressing for students who are enrolled in a summer course at the college, such as Sean Tumbokon-Flowers, a junior radio major.


“The biggest issue is, how am I going to pay for this upcoming semester? It’s stressful,” Tumbokon-Flowers said. 


Students who haven’t received financial data and documents are unsure whether they can afford Columbia, since little information is available.


“I really need to have that money now, if I don’t this whole semester could be disastrous for me,” Flowers said. “I just hope everything is going to work out.”


Copy edited by Trinity Balboa

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About the Contributors
Addison Annis
Addison Annis, Director of Photography
aannis@columbiachronicle.com   Addison Annis is a junior photojournalism major, minoring in video production. She has covered politics, cultural events and Chicago protests. Annis joined the Chronicle in August 2022.   Hometown: Plymouth, Minn.
Lukas Katilius
Lukas Katilius, Photojournalist
lkatilius@columbiachronicle.com   Lukas Katilius is a junior photojournalism major. He has covered various campus and Chicago events. Katilius  joined the Chronicle in July 2023.   Hometown: New Lenox, Illinois