COVID-19 pandemic leads to drops in enrollment at York-area colleges

Erin Bamer
York Dispatch

The COVID-19 pandemic created steep drops in enrollment for several local colleges, adding to an ongoing trend for York College and Penn State York. 

From fall 2019 to spring 2021, Penn State York's enrollment dropped by more than 100 students, from 813 to 708, according to Chancellor David Christiansen. York College's enrollment fell by nearly 300 students within a year, from 4,305 students in the fall of 2019 to 4,039 students in the fall of 2020, according to Vice President of Enrollment Management Danny Green. 

Both colleges were seeing lower enrollment numbers before the pandemic, but Christiansen said COVID-19 made an even bigger dent. Between 2015 and 2019, Penn State York's enrollment fell by 25%, compared with the 13% drop since the pandemic. York College's enrollment dropped about 2% from fall 2017 to 2019 and has since dropped about 6%. 

Penn State University's overall enrollment has been at a steady decline since at least 2017, according to its website. In 2017, the university's total enrollment was at 93,318 students, and by 2020 the total dropped to 89,816. 

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Christiansen attributed part of the ongoing enrollment drops to Penn State York limiting its enrollment of international students after college officials realized there were too many already enrolled. After the pandemic started, he said financial hardships and limited access to resources for students also contributed to the lower enrollment. 

The decline has not impacted Penn State York's funding, which is set by Penn State University, Christiansen said. The financial impact to York College is unknown. 

With COVID-19 cases slowing in York County and across the nation, both colleges are starting to see their enrollment numbers rise again. Both colleges will continue to admit students for the fall semester until August, but Christiansen said Penn State York has already enrolled 285 new students, which is 65 more than the college enrolled last fall. Green would not share how many students York College has admitted for the upcoming semester.

Penn State York has engaged in several efforts to boost enrollment. Christiansen said the college is participating in an online initiative called Front Rush to recruit more student athletes. College officials also hope the campus' newest building, The Graham Center for Innovation and Collaboration, will be an incentive for potential students. The center has only offered virtual programs for students so far, but Christiansen said the college is preparing to hold more face-to-face instruction next semester. 

"We're raring to get going again," Christiansen said. 

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York College also has launched a new tuition program, called York College Promise, to encourage applications from local students who may not otherwise be able to afford a college education. The program, which begins this fall, will pay the tuition and fees for participating York County high school graduates from low-income families.