SUNY Oswego admissions feeling ‘very positive’ about future student enrollment amid pandemic

Enrollment and admissions have become more vital than ever before as colleges and universities like SUNY Oswego aim to restore their student populations to prepandemic numbers. With strong admissions pushes this spring and summer, Oswego’s administration is optimistic that it can recover that loss and more.

SUNY Oswego saw its total headcount of students decrease by nearly 800 individuals between fall 2019 and fall 2021, representing an over 10% drop in enrollment amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I expected campus to be a lot more populated,” said Jake Cicero, a junior who transferred to Oswego before the fall 2021 semester. “Even like, a library or other public spaces, it just really feels kind of empty.”

As phenomena like “Zoom fatigue” began to set in for students in high schools and universities during the pandemic, it became harder for some to justify seeking or continuing their higher education.

“It was a less satisfying environment, you know, for students,” said Jerry Oberst, senior director of admissions at SUNY Oswego. “They saw less need for the residential environment, to pay that cost, when they weren’t getting all of the additional benefits of the potential interactions with other people through clubs, organizations, informal social things.”

A graph depicting student enrollment numbers at SUNY Oswego since 2019 - there were 7832 in 2019, 7636 in 2020, and 7058 in 2021.
Oswego’s student enrollment dropped from 7,832 in the fall of 2019 to just 7,058 in the fall of 2021. Data source: Office of Institutional Research and Assessment

Additionally, admissions events and other important aspects of marketing a university to potential students became much more difficult with social distancing and shelter-in-place orders in effect.

“In the time of COVID, there were so few students coming on campus and you had so much going forward on Zoom,” said Joel Wincowski, the interim executive director of enrollment management at SUNY Oswego. “Kids were Zoomed out, right, from high school, tired of being online all the time, not wanting to partake even in those types of programs.”

Now, as COVID-19 restrictions ease up and more prospective students are willing and able to jump into higher education, the admissions machine at Oswego has gone back into full force.

“Now, Oswego is very aggressive in its marketing. We’re all over the state in different programs,” said Wincowski.

Part of that more aggressive marketing style, alongside off-campus, in-the-community events, has been the return of more robust on-campus admissions programs.

“We have a very full complement of in-person programs going on,” said Oberst. “We’ve got a very full schedule of large open houses scheduled for the month of April on campus… we have smaller information programs available for prospective students. The only thing we’re not doing right now is individual appointments.”

One new program made as part of the push for new students from the admissions office is the “mini open house,” a more hands-on approach that includes direct interactions with Oswego faculty members from the university’s four schools.

“We’re doing much more with the academic departments for the schools, each of the four schools,” said Oberst. “They are actually showing people around in their area and actually connecting with families and meeting people and actually, you know, having a meal with them, a lunch on campus.”

With the combined efforts of admissions, administration and faculty, SUNY Oswego is well positioned to meet or exceed the student numbers they saw before 2020 in the upcoming academic year.

 “Overall, it’s just an absolutely great team effort on behalf of everyone at this institution,” said Wincowski. “Coming together, knowing that enrollment is challenged and how important it is to the institution, and taking part in the admissions process… the involvement of different groups is just so significant to overall success.”

As of March 2, Oswego had 11,390 applications submitted for the fall 2022 semester, up over 2,000 applications from the same time last year, and about 200 fewer than at the same time in 2019.

Additionally, the school had received 357 enrollment deposit fees as of March 2, compared to 165 and 218 fees paid by the same time in 2020 and 2019 respectively.

“We’re feeling very positive about our numbers at this point in time,” said Wincowski. “I’m not sure there’s anyone in SUNY who can compare with our numbers at this moment in time, as to where we’re at this year and compared to two years ago.”

With admissions flourishing in this early stage, it looks like the SUNY Oswego campus community could see many more students walking its halls next year. “At this point, all the indications based on applications, based on students offered admission, based on students who’ve already deposited, we are in good shape,” said Oberst. “Assuming things continue to go in a good direction and barring any unforeseen events, I’m quite optimistic.”