Where did all the students go? News10NBC investigates why MCC’s enrollment is down 47%

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ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WHEC) — Something is happening at Monroe Community College (MCC) that caught our investigative eye. The number of students at the college in the past decade has been cut nearly in half.

If it was just COVID, we would see a one-year drop, but the SUNY data shows 10 years of decline and it’s happening at almost every single community college in New York.

Click here to find your SUNY university, college or community college to track its enrollment since 2010. Click on "View detailed SUNY enrollment data" then scroll down the list on the right side to find your school.

The new MCC president, Dr. DeAnna Burt-Nanna, brought the numbers up at a county legislature budget hearing last week.

"Increasing student recruitment and enrollment and retention are among MCC’s top five priorities," she told county lawmakers.

Here are the hard numbers from SUNY: In 2010, there were 18,995 enrolled students at MCC, and in 2020 it was 10,161, that’s a 47% decline.

Ten years ago at all community colleges in New York, there were 249,343 students enrolled, but by 2020, there were 173,930, a 31% decline.

Brean took the enrollment problem to the SUNY Chancellor when he was at MCC last week. He said the biggest drop was in lower-income students.

Jim Malatras, SUNY Chancellor: "We need to figure out what’s going on there and break down barriers whether it’s food insecurity, housing insecurity even paying for application fees which we’ve eliminated for low-income individuals."

Brean: "The decrease in enrollment, do you think we’ve plateaued here or what do you see?"

Jim Malatras: "No, the trends are down."

Brean: "So it’s going to keep going down?"

Jim Malatras: "I think it’s going to keep going down unless you capture and fix this equity challenge unless you fix the problem of — don’t come to us, we have to build around your communities. We have to build around your schedule."

The chancellor was at MCC to kick off the Forward Center — a program to train people for the jobs that are opening up now.

At the county hearing, MCC President Burt-Nanna said MCC is using federal aid to pay down some student debt to entice students to come back.

"Perhaps they will," she said. "We believe a proportion of them will."

SUNY says the growth area for community colleges is students between the age of 25 and 44 and I saw that today.

Karl Culbreath walked out of the MCC financial aid office with his dad after he just enrolled. Culbreath is 27 and wants to get his business degree.

"Uh, to change my life around," he said when I asked him why he enrolled. "Success. Positive vibes and success."

Culbreath said he wants to get to the University of Rochester and then open his own gym and restaurant.

The Excelsior Scholarship Impact

The Excelsior Scholarship plays a role in this problem. The scholarship covers SUNY tuition for middle-class families.

It started in 2017 and that’s the moment when SUNY enrollment starts to exceed community college enrollment. The thought is — that scholarship afforded thousands of students to bypass community colleges and go to a four-year school.

And then there’s the issue of New Yorkers going online for school out of state.

SUNY Chancellor Malatras said there are 50,000 New Yorkers enrolled in online school programs outside of New York.

"How do we bring them back and say — don’t pay for out-of-state colleges that are more expensive and lower quality. Come to the State University of New York," he said.