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The Ebb and Flow of Enrollment

By Belle Martinelli


Prospective students from Purchase's Accepted Students Day in April 2022 (photo via @purchasecollege on Instagram)

Enrollment at Purchase College is at a noticeable low, with just a little over 3,000 students, compared to over 4,000 students in 2010. Purchase, the proclaimed “artsiest” school in the SUNY system, has not gone untouched by the declining enrollment trends in SUNY state-wide.


“While SUNY system-wide has experienced enrollment declines over the past decade, Purchase has experienced a decline over the last four years,” said Dennis Craig, vice president for student affairs and enrollment management.


The shortage of students is not exclusive to Purchase. Undergraduate enrollment is dwindling at colleges around the country, according to the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center, which reported a decline of more than 4 percent between 2020 and 2022, some institutions losing a little over 1 percent of undergraduates just this fall. Yet, Purchase has witnessed a spike in applications despite the falling enrollments.


“Applications have increased year over year by more than 35%,” said Purchase’s interim director of admissions, Anna Valinoti. “SUNY provided two weeks of free applications this past fall that assisted in the increase SUNY wide. Purchase College saw an increase in applications both before and after the SUNY initiative.”


Despite increasing applications, why does it still seem like there aren’t a lot of students on campus? Purchase is implementing short-term and long-term strategies to increase and engage the prospective student body.


“Short term strategies include more recruitment outreach and visit programs, earlier awarding of scholarships, and [Purchase] has engaged in new online and social media prospecting initiatives, among additional strategies,” said Craig.


According to Valinoti, admissions staff and ambassadors are providing personal outreach to prospective students, as well as increased visiting options, outreach to parents and admissions counselors visiting high schools and college fairs.


“Longer term, the college is considering the addition of new majors,” said Craig, “and revising existing programs to enroll additional students.”


For students like Kathleen Birmingham, this is a step in the right direction. Birmingham, a sophomore commuter with aspirations to go into veterinary medicine, said, “Because this school is so artsy, other majors don’t feel as if they’re going to get all the resources they need here because it’s so centered around the arts.”


The COVID-19 pandemic also contributed largely to declining enrollment rates.


“The pandemic accelerated national trends,” said Craig. “The percent of students enrolling in college during the pandemic also decreased.”


COVID-19 forced many students to put their academics on pause. With the introduction to online and remote learning, many choose to stick with this method, as well.


“I have a suitemate who was really affected by the pandemic,” said freshman psychology major Kyler Charles-Midonnet. “After taking a gap year and then the pandemic hitting, I’m surprised they still followed through with the plans they had for schooling at Purchase because they’re now a 21-year-old freshman and that just sounds really crappy. The pandemic threw a lot of people’s plans for school around.”


Many students agreed, especially those returning to college campuses in a post-pandemic world, like junior communications major Sydnie Fouse. “I think overall rates nationwide throughout the pandemic have contributed to struggle and fatigue in classes,” she said.


Despite the hardships, students appreciate the community that Purchase has cultivated, albeit a large student body or small. According to Valinoti, one of the goals in the admissions process “is to seek out students who we believe would be a good fit for Purchase and would thrive in our community.” And according to many students, they were able to fit into the Purchase community.


“I chose Purchase because it’s very LGBTQ friendly and my media studies program is really good,” said junior Ava Quick.


“I felt really comfortable with the people here. I felt really accepted being a part of the LGBTQ community. Being a bi-racial gay woman at Purchase, I don’t feel scared, and I think that’s really nice,” said Charles-Midonnet. “Also – Mitski.”


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