COVID killed college? NJ public schools report record enrollment

After years of concern over whether the coronavirus pandemic would cause a lasting hit to applications and enrollments at four-year colleges, a handful of institutions across New Jersey are reporting record enrollment numbers for the fall 2022 semester.

“It goes against everything you’ve read about there being a huge cliff and nobody going to college anymore,” said Jonathan Koppell, president of Montclair State University.

Montclair State welcomed 4,065 students to campus this month, the largest first-grader enrollment ever recorded for the public institution. With this, the university is handling its largest student body to date with more than 21,600.

Kean, Rowan and the New Jersey Institute of Technology also broke enrollment records with their incoming Class of 2026 students. At the NJIT, the number of freshmen this fall increased by 30% compared to the previous year.

Montclair State University

Photo courtesy of Montclair State University

Year-over-year applications grew by more than 3,500 for Stockton University, which recorded its second-biggest freshman program this fall.

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Stockton vice president of enrollment management Bob Heinrich said the university has been able to step up in front of students to promote the campus over the past year with fewer COVID concerns. At the same time, more prospective students and their families visited the site for guided tours and open house events.

“We knew the interest was there. It was just about working with them to get them enrolled and registered so they could start this fall,” Heinrich said.

Last spring, Heinrich predicted the enrollment declines in 2020 and 2021 would be “a blip.”

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According to the Office of the Secretary of Higher Education, total enrollment at public colleges and universities in the state fell 3.1% in the fall of 2021 compared to 2020, after falling 0.7% the year before. Private institutions saw a decline of more than 3.5% over the two years, while community college enrollments fell by more than 18%.

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“Early signs of strong enrollment trends suggest there is still robust demand for a four-year college degree,” said Eugene Lepore, executive director of the New Jersey Association of State Colleges and Universities. “Students and families are identifying our state’s senior public colleges and universities as an affordable, quality choice with a strong return on investment.”

When approached for comment, not many private institutions had enrollment statistics to share with New Jersey 101.5. Monmouth University said its first class is smaller this year than last year. Rider University’s freshman enrollment rose 21% this year compared to last year, but the number remains below pre-pandemic levels.

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Dino Flammia is a reporter for New Jersey 101.5. You can reach him at [email protected]

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