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Student Kaili Haber of Wheatfield works on her studies in the NCCC Learning Commons in this 2018 file photo.

SANBORN — Over this past academic year, Niagara County Community College has seen a decline in enrollment, something not new for the school.

Enrollment was down about 6% for the fall 2022 semester, creating a revenue shortfall of $495,000. Tentatively, those numbers improved for the spring 2023 semester, with enrollment down an estimated 3.5% compared to the spring 2022 semester, producing an expected revenue shortfall of $300,000.

With the overall decline in enrollment, the school forecasts a total revenue shortfall between $700,000 and $800,000 for the current fiscal year. Despite that, the school has not laid off any of its approximately 600 staff members.

Wayne Lynch, vice president of administration, said NCCC is facing the same challenges as other colleges in the Northeast, due to smaller high school class sizes and the lingering effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on higher education.

“However, for the current semester, we anticipate meeting our enrollment projection,” Lynch said. “In fact, we’ve seen an uptick of 3,000 credit hours in the last week, which is encouraging.”

Tuition at NCCC is $2,520 per semester for full-time residents of New York state, and $5,040 per semester for out-of-state residents. Tuition, out-of-county chargebacks and related fees make up 48% of the college’s total revenue. The college also receives $10.4 million from the state, 23% of its total revenue, and $8.9 million from Niagara County, 20% of total revenue.

Declining enrollment isn’t a new trend for NCCC. Enrollment numbers provided by SUNY show that from 2011 through the fall of 2021, the community college’s enrollment decreased by 3,000 students or 42%. SUNY-wide in that same period, enrollment in 30 community colleges decreased by about 87,000, or 35%.

Julia Pitman, vice president of student services, said NCCC is hoping for a turnaround of enrollment in the fall 2023 semester. So far, she said, applications are up 16% compared to this time last year.

However, based on population data, the number of high school students will continue to drop for the next four to five years. Enrollment in nine of 10 traditional school districts in Niagara County is down overall the past 10 years, according to the non-partisan think tank Empire Center for Public Policy Inc.

“That doesn’t mean that our enrollment should shrink, it means that we need to expand our offerings and services to attract students who are at other points in their lives,” Pitman said.

To that point, NCCC has implemented a strategic enrollment plan that increases its focus on adult learners. The school launched an evening college this semester that caters to students who have been out of school for a while and want to study at night or on weekends. The evening college has a range of support through academic advisement, career counseling, tutoring, and financial services. It is working with SUNY on several initiatives to guarantee admission.

NCCC is also reviewing its current college degree, certificate and training program offerings to make sure they match what the residents of Niagara County want and need. The college recently partnered with local employers to provide degree and training opportunities for employees of enterprises including People Inc., the Niagara County Sheriff’s Office, Niagara Falls Police Department and Amazon.

“As the college continues to address the enrollment trend, all of us remain committed to serving our community in the way we always have, by offering a top-notch educational environment, programs that allow students to reach their goals without the burden of excessive debt, and a friendly place to learn,” Pitman said.

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