Although Hunter retention rates have remained relatively stable between 2018 and 2020, those numbers are subject to change as a result of COVID-19.
Enrollment at Hunter rose from 23,193 in 2019 to 24,052 in 2020, according to a financial report from the University Budget Office. The school had a retention rate 9 percentage points higher than the average at the City University of New York in 2018, according to data from the CUNY Office of Institutional Research.
However, the overall decline in college enrollment rates nationwide during the 2020-2021 academic year indicate that retention rates could follow similar trends.
Hunter College retention rates lingered at 81.2 percent in 2018, compared to 72.2 percent for CUNY schools overall. According to the New York Post, freshmen enrollment at public universities in New York fell by 4.4 percent during the fall 2020 term, compared to a record 2.8 percent increase the previous year. This could lead to long-term financial consequences for the Hunter student body at large.
According to Braven, an educational non-profit organization, low-income students have experienced the highest dropout rates out of any socioeconomic demographic and are more severely impacted by the economic fallout of COVID-19. A majority of Hunter students come from low-income households, having a median family income of $57,500 a year, –according to the New York Times.
Recent studies conducted by Palgrave Communications also show a strong correlation between income equality and mental illness, an issue that has been prevalent amongst the Hunter student body since the start of the pandemic.
According to a dual report by Healthy CUNY and the CUNY Graduate School of Public Health and Health Policy, more than half of CUNY students reporting that they experienced either anxiety or depression throughout the pandemic.
The same report also concluded that mental health issues have led to a decrease in academic performance in approximately 55 percent of students that suffer from anxiety and depression–which has prompted students to either take a lighter course load or take gap semesters.
Claudia Dana, a rising senior at Hunter College, said she took the fall 2020 semester off after struggling with depression and academic burnout during the spring term.
“There was a conspicuous lack of classes,” she said. “I would go to maybe one or two a week out of the five that I had…I was just so exhausted from the spring semester that I didn’t think I was ready in the slightest to do another virtual semester.”
Mental health issues have become increasingly prevalent among college students over the past year, with half of surveyed students screening positive for depression and/or anxiety, –according to a nationwide survey conducted by Boston University.
In addition, 83 percent of college students said that mental health issues negatively affected their academic performance within the past month and two-thirds of them reported struggling with loneliness.
Noam Gold said she also took a gap semester for mental health concerns, back in the spring 2020 semester, and found adjusting to the remote learning format to be tedious. This led her to take on a lighter academic course load, having taken only three credits per semester throughout the 2020-2021 academic year, though she still encounters obstacles with the online learning platform.
“Last semester was okay because it was synchronous and the professor was really good with the technology,” she said. “This semester is clearly asynchronous though, and the professor literally doesn’t teach us anything.”
This mental health crisis combined with the disengagement and frustration surrounding remote learning could hurt both retention rates and enrollment rates at Hunter, as reflected by national college enrollment data.
According to one survey, 25 percent of freshmen opted to delay college during the 2020-2021 academic year. This nationwide decline in college enrollment rates may indicate that retention rates could follow similar trends.
According to Sarah Ketchen Lipson, a professor at the BU School of Public Health, an increase in access to mental health resources and accommodations could mitigate this trend and encourage students to persist in their academic studies despite the potential drop in retention rates.
“Faculty need to be flexible with deadlines and remind students that their talent is not solely demonstrated by their ability to get a top grade during one challenging semester,” she said in an interview on the college’s website.