Enrollment Continues To Rise At Hunter College, But COVID-19 Impacts Are Uncertain

(Unsplash/Nathan Dumlao)

Enrollment at Hunter rose from 23,193 in 2019 to 24,052 in 2020, according to a financial report from the University Budget Office. 

Additionally, the college saw a general increase in retention between 1996 and 2019 according to the CUNY Office of Institutional Research & Assessment, averaging the third-highest retention rate among four-year colleges in the CUNY system.  

But with the COVID-19 pandemic forcing academic and co-curricular activities online for more than one academic year, the reasons that students choose to stay or leave the college continue to evolve.

Kartik Kumar, who began his journey at Hunter College remotely during the fall 2020 semester, said he had academic and financial reasons for continuing his enrollment. 

The Daedalus Scholar Program provides him with a tuition scholarship along with other academic benefits like priority class and dorm registration. And despite being accepted to numerous other colleges, Kumar said he could not pass up such an affordable option.

“The Daedalus program has helped me learn core concepts and build my portfolio, which is super important for any student,” Kumar said. 

With an annual in-state tuition of $6,390, Hunter College is below the average in-state tuition rate of $9,687, according to U.S. News & World Report

Over 85 percent of students qualifying for the in-state tuition rate between the years of 2015 and 2019, according to the Hunter College 2019 Factbook

“I mean, why should I pay $20,000 to learn what I could for free?” said Kumar.

Luka Meza Urotadze, a current junior at the college, said that extracurriculars made a positive difference in his college experience.

“Almost all the friends I’ve made at Hunter are from the clubs, and I have some really fond memories surrounding that. It’s the highlight of my college experience,” he said.

Despite this, Urotadze said he decided not to enroll in classes for the spring 2021 semester, citing the challenges of remote learning.

“We transitioned to online learning. And I thought, ‘Alright, now I’m really wasting my time,’” Urotadze said.

Over 500,000 students in the U.S. did not continue undergraduate enrollment during the fall 2020 semester, according to a report published by the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center. 

Both Urotadze and Kumar said that remote learning was a deterrent for them. Kumar added that a lack of structure in some courses could contribute to students taking time off from the college.

Though CUNY uses Blackboard as a learning management system, some professors choose to use other methods to communicate with their students.

For one, classes may be held either on Zoom or Blackboard Collaborate, which is a video conferencing system built into Blackboard. Then, professors may choose to communicate with their students through Blackboard announcements, email, or a separate announcement method. 

“I have a hard time keeping track of what to check,” said Kumar.

More than half of college students said they struggled with  not knowing where to get help when classes shifted online, according to a survey conducted by Digital Promise, an educational research nonprofit. 

The survey also reported that only 20% of students surveyed said they could stay motivated to do well in their courses, which Kumar said is a reflection of the lowered enrollment rates.

“Even for a computer science major like myself, online learning isn’t easy. I wouldn’t blame anyone who needed time off because they just can’t do it,” he said.