Smart Moves

Sharp students seeking marketable skills, affordable tuition and fast-track programs like CUNY Justice Academy are driving record enrollment at the University.

CUNY expects a record spring 2010 enrollment and projects that next fall's registration will likely top last fall's record high.

Colleges were still reporting preliminary figures at press time, but Robert A. Ptachik, senior university dean for the executive office and enrollment, said the trend appeared headed toward bigger spring enrollment than last year and a bustling fall.

This is in keeping with the national trend, as the difficult economy propels students to community and senior colleges to update their skills and earn new credentials. President Obama spotlighted community colleges with a $12 billion, multiyear pledge of support. And the Post-9/11 GI Bill is paying the tuition of a flood of Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans.

At CUNY, the birth of the dynamic Justice Academy, which links six community colleges with John Jay College of Criminal Justice, is drawing in additional students. Last fall, some 1,600 started in criminal justice and 200 began forensic science. When they earn their associate degrees, they're guaranteed admission into John Jay's bachelor's program.

As in the fall, the rush to college prompted some community colleges to close admissions early. Borough of Manhattan, for example, stopped new admissions on Dec. 21 and cut off registration for returning students on Jan. 8. As of Jan. 4, it had 1,700 more students than at the same time in 2009, pointing to more than 22,200 students for the spring. "We're closing early because there's no space to put people," said college spokesman Barry Rosen.

LaGuardia Community College expects to retain significantly more returning students in the spring semester starting in March. As of Jan. 4, it had registered 7,551 returning students, up from 5,107 on the same day in 2009 - a 47.9 percent increase. "The economy is such that many more students are opting to stay enrolled so they can proceed to completion of their degrees," said Michael Baston, associate dean for enrollment management and student development.

Reine Sarmiento, LaGuardia's assistant dean of enrollment services, said that with so many students coming through the University's central application center, the college does not expect to have direct admissions for the spring. Meanwhile, LaGuardia has expanded online and hybrid classes for students, as well as remedial and English as a second language courses to prepare students for college entry.

Kingsborough Community College divides its fall semester into 12-week fall and 6-week winter modules. As registration continued on Jan. 4, there were 1,732 more winter registrants than in 2009, a 25 percent rise. That compares to a 10 percent year-over-year increase for the fall of 2009.

"That surprised us, because normally you'd assume that registration would be the same" in the two modules, said David Gomez, dean for instructional services. He also noted an increase in preparedness. "We're placing more directly into freshman comp, rather than developmental courses."

At New York City College of Technology, which offers associate and bachelor's degrees, students registered early "because they want to be sure they have programs and will be full time for the spring semester," said Marcella Amorza, vice president for enrollment and student affairs.

More students who have earned associate degrees or interrupted their studies are returning for bachelor's, along with more veterans, and parents are attending student orientation sessions, she said. "There is a sense that in the face of such uncertainty, this is a good time to prepare for the future."

At Queens College, Admissions Director Vincent J. Angrisani noted an influx of second-semester transfers from expensive colleges like Adelphi, Hofstra and residential SUNY campuses. "These are bright students with 90 averages and 1300 SATS who are coming to Queens after one semester because they're struggling financially. We don't pry, but they'll say they can afford the tuition, but not the room and board. And they're very strong students, which is great to see," he said.

As of the end of December, 530 transfer students had enrolled and a total of 1,200 were expected from the more than 2,160 students admitted. "We predict that the ‘show rate' will be higher than the norm, but a lot of students are having difficulty finding classes, which is a concern," he said.