Lehman College welcomed the largest freshman class in its 53-year history this fall, with 1,585 first-year students enrolling for the 2021-2022 academic year.
New admissions grew by more than 16% compared to the fall of 2020 and more than 28% compared to 2019, before the start of the pandemic, said Lehman’s Director of Admissions and Recruitment Laurie Austin. Lehman’s total general enrollment is 14,238, combining undergraduate and graduate students.
Peter Nwosu, Lehman’s provost and senior vice president of academic affairs and student success, noted that the jump in enrollment comes at a time when students have an ever-expanding array of options for higher education.
“I am immensely grateful that a record number of students have chosen to join the Lehman community,” he said. “We take enormous pride in our college’s ability to move students up the ladder to the middle class, and with our largest-ever freshman class, we have a significant opportunity to make an impact in the Bronx.”
The increase also comes as general enrollment for the nation’s community colleges, public four-year institutions, and private, nonprofit institutions has declined amid the COVID-19 pandemic. According to the National Student Clearing House Research Center, higher education enrollment fell to new lows this spring, dropping from 17.5 million to 16.9 million, for a one-year decline of 3.5%.
COVID-19 prompted changes in how Lehman connected with potential students and the criteria applicants were required to meet. The college’s ability to pivot, enrollment officials said, helped Lehman not only stave off steep declines but exceed expectations with its freshman class.
The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic required many of the city’s high schools to operate remotely, along with other adjustments. As a result, CUNY, along with hundreds of other universities, temporarily lifted SAT and ACT requirements for prospective students through spring 2023.
That decision gave Lehman admissions more flexibility when considering the more than 20,100 applications received for the fall semester.
“We placed more emphasis on English, social studies and math proficiency,” Austin said.
In previous years, admissions representatives would typically be out in the field, meeting new students at high school and college fairs and conducting tours. However, this year, they gathered prospective students’ information and offered application guidance and academic counseling virtually, Austin said. Admissions also hosted an online Accepted Students Week filled with virtual programming including panel discussions and a live chat.
“A lot of those virtual options worked well, and we are going to continue using them, even as Admissions resumes in-person activities,” she said.
Recognizing that this freshman class is starting college during an unprecedented time, Lehman has expanded its freshman support services, including additional mental health services, to help them navigate the transition.
Nonetheless, even with the ongoing challenges posed by COVID-19, the excitement among the freshman class is palpable, said Althea Forde, senior director of Academic Program Services in Enrollment Services.
“Many of [the prospective students] had never seen the campus before and were shocked at how beautiful and how big it is,” she said. “They’re excited to be part of the Lehman community, and we’re excited to have them.”