MCC Daily Tribune
Rumors and Reality
In a typical year, the stress of the end of the academic year can be difficult. This year, these stressors are layered on top of concerns about declining enrollment and the impact of the challenges MCC has faced this year, as well as a 24-hour news cycle that seems to careen from bad to worse. It's hard. Throw rumors and misinformation into the mix, and the stress builds. So, each day from today through the end of academic year, I'll be tackling one rumor. I have a whole list, but if you have one you would like addressed, please send it along through the portal.
Rumor: President Kress is responsible for MCC's enrollment decline, which began as soon as she was appointed.
Reality: No, but I get why that rumor is there.
A few weeks ago, in her wonderful Legacy Lecture, Professor Celia Reaves reminded us all that correlation is not always causation. I started in June 2009, and MCC's enrollment peaked in 2010. I can't and don't take credit for that, and conversely, it isn't accurate to blame me (or any office at our College) for the consistent enrollment challenges that followed not just at MCC but also across SUNY's community colleges and much of US higher education.
Community college enrollment runs counter-cyclical to the economy. When there's an economic downturn, individuals who cannot find employment head to community colleges for new skills, certificates, and degrees. The last downturn, "the Great Recession," was particularly severe, and, prompted both by unemployment and by federal funds readily available to dislocated workers, community college enrollments skyrocketed. I was hired at the tail-end of this period: coinciding with the peak 2010 enrollment. But, what goes up must come down, and the higher the climb the further the fall. So, over the course of the economic recovery, community college enrollments fell and have continued falling.
The attached SUNY graph charts historical community college enrollment across the system from 1976 to 2018. The gray bars represent economic downturns and the enrollment increases that follow, as well as the decline in enrollment that typically comes with the economic recovery. The illustrated roller coaster ride of enrollment usually settles back to the same point at which it began, which is why SUNY community college enrollment in 2018 is about the same as it was in 2002 and 1992.
To the negative impact on enrollment created the economic recovery, add the intense competition by regional and national colleges and universities for students; and the impact of the Excelsior scholarship in meeting the financial need of students who once may have started at community colleges. It's not surprising that enrollment continues to decline at MCC and across the community college system.
Community colleges can and do increase enrollment outside of economic downturns, but something must drive this enrollment. If a region's population were increasing, if the number of high school graduates were growing, if nearby colleges ended programs or closed altogether, if a very large employer located in the region, if a programmatic change attracted previously underserved student populations (hence, our work with Gray Associates)--then, enrollment would likely increase.
None of this information on external factors will stop some from leaping from correlation to causation regarding my role in MCC's enrollment decline, and I know that.
But, I also know that all across our College, individuals and offices from faculty to facilities are working diligently, creatively, and collaboratively to improve student enrollment by focusing on a factor that is within our control: retention. This is transformational, necessary, and difficult work, and with full credit to so many at MCC, it is happening. Moving the needle on student retention by even a few points would make a huge difference not just in our enrollment but, much more importantly, in the success of our students.
The commitment of our entire MCC community to our students is not a rumor whispered in a corner, it is the lived reality at our College in our classrooms and offices, on fields and in performances, in certificates and degrees. This is what makes us inspiring; you make us inspiring. We can and should do much more to lift up this work and, as one anonymous poster wrote, "what I see and hear are dedicated individuals separated by many issues, but united by a common ground, MCC, from the lower level to the higher level ... could you please spread and celebrate, in the Tribune messages, the many individuals that day-after-day plant the seed of success in our students and strengthen our MCC community."
The answer to this one is yes. Look for more on this tomorrow.
Office of the President