Affecting the faculty and the budget
One of the first jobs for Claudia Schrader, the newly appointed president of Kingsborough Community College (KCC), will be to address the student enrollment crisis at the South Brooklyn campus.
Since 2013, student enrollment has plummeted a whopping 19.3 percent, according to CUNY figures, a stark contrast to the 11.4 percent increase at Borough of Manhattan Community College (BMCC), the 2.9 percent increase at Hostos Community College, or even small dips at places like LaGuardia Community College, which saw a 2 percent loss in enrollment over the same time period. Brooklyn’s flagship four-year campus, Brooklyn College, has seen increased enrollment for that time period, and CUNY recently reported a 4 percent overall increase in freshman enrollment this Fall. CUNY records show that the number of full-time undergraduate students CUNY-wide has gone up by 0.7 percent since 2013.
While it’s natural for campuses and programs to see dips in enrollment – for example, City College has seen a total annual head-count decline of about 200 students across both graduate and undergraduate numbers in the last several years – the nearly 20 percent fall since 2013 for Kingsborough, which is the only two-year campus in Brooklyn, is an anomaly when it comes to CUNY enrollment numbers.
The implications of this trend on KCC’s budget are profound. According to documents obtained by Clarion, the college’s spending on adjunct teaching pay has decreased 28 percent from 2014 to 2017, roughly mirroring the downward trajectory of enrollment.
PSC members and KCC officials agree that the decline can partially be blamed on the previous administration’s decision to curtail advertising efforts for the school combined with the campus’s location off the beaten path – it’s tucked away in Manhattan Beach, accessible after a bus transfer from the Q, N, D and F lines terminating in Coney Island.
“We are infamously difficult to get to,” said Mary Dawson, the chair of the department of biological sciences at KCC. “Even if you live in Brooklyn, it could take 90 minutes to get here using public transportation.”
As observers have noted, places like BMCC have lots of advertising in the subway and elsewhere, and for North and Central Brooklyn residents, it’s an easier commute to Lower Manhattan.
LACK OF ADVERTISING
In response, KCC, under new administration, is working to increase visibility with new advertising for the school, but there are other issues contributing to the problem. According to the KCC administration, the number of high school graduates from feeder districts within a 5-10 mile radius of KCC has declined.
“KCC and BMCC have substantial overlap in applications, meaning students list both colleges on their CUNY application. Over this period, we know students state the main reason for choosing one over the other is that transportation is easier from most areas of Brooklyn to BMCC,” said Thomas Friebel, a KCC spokesman.
KCC wasn’t always in the advertising dark, however. According to Rina Yarmish, the PSC chapter chair at KCC, the college used to advertise the campus throughout the borough, but former KCC President Farley Herzek reduced the school’s advertising budget from more than half a million dollars a year to zero – and the KCC administration confirms this.
“He didn’t really do the advertising that had been done before,” she told Clarion. “There used to be a lot on buses and in print media, and he did not fund that. I would definitely say it’s my impression that this decline began under his stewardship…[The interim president had] been very aware of this.”
Before Schrader’s appointment, according to members, the KCC interim administration had indicated to the faculty that it was interested in several initiatives to reverse the enrollment trend, including doing more advertising.
And Rick Armstrong, an associate professor of English, said, “In the past the publicity budget was significantly reduced. Before that action, one would watch a Knicks game and a KCC commercial would come on, featuring former president Regina Peruggi, or walk into a Brooklyn movie theater and see a KCC ad while waiting for the film. KCC used to be on buses as well.”
But Armstrong said advertising wasn’t the only issue.
“When the economy is strong, we tend to lose enrollment, which might also tell part of the story,” he said. “The more alarming explanation might relate to the gentrification of the city. As poor and working-class families are displaced due to high housing prices and new construction, wealthier people whose children will not attend a CUNY community college move in. Thus, it is possible that our student demographics do not exist in the numbers they had previously.”
ADDRESSING THE PROBLEM
The good news for the PSC chapter at KCC is that the new administration has listened to the concerns of faculty about the decline in enrollment. Friebel confirmed that the administration planned to increase advertising and marketing funding for the Fall. He noted that the community college will also conduct more outreach through programming with the Brooklyn Public Library as well as through public and private high schools.
Despite the challenges, the chapter remains optimistic that the right advertising campaign and other recruitment efforts will attract students. Despite its physical isolation, KCC is still the only two-year CUNY campus in Brooklyn, and it’s the closest two-year campus to Staten Island, which has one four-year CUNY campus.
“From providing shuttle buses to looking at academic master plans, the new administration has given all indications that they’re firmly committed to addressing holistically and looking at what this fall in enrollment is attributed to,” Dawson said.
EFFECTS ON TEACHING
For the KCC union chapter, the decline in enrollment is a worrying trend with real consequences for faculty. Specialty and elective classes have been canceled and instructors have been known to cancel sections due to a lack of enrollment. Fewer classes to go around means that full-time faculty end up teaching more remedial classes than they might have expected, and, of large concern, members said, fewer adjuncts get hired or reappointed.
“The biggest impact is on the cutting of required sections,” said KCC English professor Eben Wood, “which doesn’t necessarily impact full-time faculty, but impacts adjuncts.”