College Enrolls Smaller Freshman Class Amid Demographic Changes

During Manhattan College’s opening weekend, 772 new first-year students started to call its campus their home away from home.

These new students came from an applicant pool of 7,622 prospects, out of which 5,746 were admitted, according to figures provided by Caitlin Read, the college’s executive director of admissions & enrollment operations.

These numbers demonstrate an increase in the college’s admission rate, rising from 71 percent for the class of 2020 to 75 percent for the class of 2021.

The above numbers are subject to change until Sept. 29, when the college census is finalized and the numbers become official.

Phoebe Torsilieri, a senior tour guide, talked about the number of students [for the class of 2021] that showed an interest in MC before they committed. “I gave a tour during one of the open houses to about 50 people, which is crazy. And I wasn’t the only one who gave a tour that size, there was maybe ten other tour guides out who were giving out giant tours. This was a huge, huge group that came and looked at the school.”


The class of 2021 is slightly smaller than the preceding class of 2020, which welcomed 814 students during this time last year.  However, Vice President of Enrollment Management William Bisset, Ph.D., explains that there is no reason for concern.

“Right now, in terms of undergraduate enrollment, the college is bigger than it’s ever been,” Bisset said.  “This was the fourth largest class in the last 20 years.”

According to Bisset, the incoming class was purposefully designed to have a slightly smaller enrollment from years in advance.  The ultimate goal was to have a freshman class of around 800 students entering the college in fall 2017.

“When we’re designing our enrollment strategies, it’s around keeping the undergraduate enrollment at an optimal level,” Bisset said.

This ‘optimal level’ is anywhere between a total enrollment of 3,400 to 3,600 students.  Currently, the college’s undergraduate student body is comprised of 3,463 students.

This decline in both applications and enrollments is not specific to MC.  According to Bisset, the U.S is currently experiencing a demographic decline in college-age citizens.  This means that there are less people to apply for higher education altogether.

“The vast majority, especially of private colleges and universities in the country, have smaller freshman classes these days, simply on the basis of the fact that there are fewer 17-year-olds to draw from than there were three years ago, four years ago, five years ago,” he said.

Sometimes, a college is not in a position to expand its enrollment because of the limited amount of on-campus housing.

Bisset said that the ten-person suites in Horan Hall were created, in part, because of the larger-than-expected enrollment for the class of 2019, which enrolled about 100 students more than the Office of Admissions had anticipated, for a total number of 905 students.

“It was good to a certain extent, because we had more students, but it created challenges in housing, it created challenges when it came to course sections, it created challenges that we didn’t want to repeat,” he said. “Since that class [of 2019] has enrolled, we’ve been looking for an opportunity to eliminate those ten-person suites, which is part of the reason why we’ve been looking into bringing a smaller freshman class for the past couple of years.”

The admission and enrollment process is all according to design and is a process that begins years in advance.  Nevertheless, there were a few areas which surprised the Office of Admissions with the incoming class.

One of these surprises was pleasant.  The enrollment numbers for the School of Liberal Arts and the School of Science were higher than anticipated.  School of Liberal Arts enrollment increased to 177 new students from 154 new students last year, while School of Science enrollment increased to 108 new students from 89.  The School of Education’s enrollment was around the same as it was last year, decreasing slightly to 96 new students from 99 the previous year.

However, the number of incoming students declined in the School of Business from 183 students to 156 students.  This decline also extended to the School of Engineering, whose enrollment decreased to 235 new students from 289.

According to Bisset, the Office of Admissions has developed a more selective process for enrollment in the School of Engineering.  However, there may be a reason why there was a larger decline in the school’s enrollment.

“One surprise I had is that we were down significantly in the number of chemical engineering deposits compared to a year ago,” Bisset said.  “When I break down the School of Engineering, with this particular class, we were on target everywhere except for chemical engineering.”

Another surprise came to the Office of Admissions in the form of lower enrollment in the School of Business.  However, Bisset is hopeful that the enrollment for the school will rise with the class of 2022 because of the renovations De La Salle Hall received over the summer.

“I do know that there’s a tremendous amount of competition as it relates to top business students these days,” Bisset said.  “I think that the renovations that we’ve made in De La Salle Hall in the School of Business couldn’t have come any sooner.  I think that that’s going to have a big impact this year.”

Another factor that the Office of Admissions considered was the potential impact of New York state’s Excelsior Scholarship, which allows select students to attend a CUNY or SUNY school tuition-free.

At MC specifically, there were a few students who paid their deposits in the spring of 2017, but then withdrew from enrollment because they had qualified for the Excelsior program and had elected to attend one of these public universities instead.  Bisset, however, said that this number was negligible, and did not have a large impact on the college’s overall enrollment numbers for the class of 2021.

Furthermore, Denise Scalzo, MC’s director of financial aid, says that while the college cannot provide free tuition for students within a certain income bracket, a private institution can provide certain services and incentives that might not be readily available at a public university.

“Our graduation and retention rates are really good, and our default rates are low and we have things that CUNY and SUNY don’t have: high job placement, active alumni that are generous and give endowments to students,” she said.  “They don’t have the support services that we provide here.”

“Our focus is to mentor and make students more active in the community,” Scalzo said.

Overall, the college’s enrollment is at its optimal number, and as of right now, the goal of the Office of Admissions is to maintain, rather than expand.