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Emerson College says enrollment down significantly after "negative" reaction to student protests; layoffs planned

Pro-Palestinian encampment cleared at Emerson College
Pro-Palestinian encampment cleared at Emerson College 03:13

BOSTON - Emerson College in Boston said in a message to staff that student protests are one of the reasons why freshman enrollment this fall is "significantly below" projections. Now the school is planning budget cuts and may reduce faculty positions as a result of the decline.

"We attribute this reduction to multiple factors, including national enrollment trends away from smaller private institutions, an enrollment deposit delay in response to the new FAFSA rollout, student protests targeting our yield events and campus tours, and negative press and social media generated from the demonstrations and arrests," Emerson College president Jay Bernhardt and other administrators said in the letter.

Emerson among Boston colleges that saw tent protests

Emerson was one of several Boston-area colleges that saw pro-Palestinian protests inspired by student protesters at Columbia University. Protesters set up tents in a public alley next to Boylston Street in April. They said they wouldn't leave until Emerson called for a ceasefire in Gaza and divested from companies and institutions doing business with Israel

Emerson protests
Pro-Palestinian students set up camp in Boylston Place CBS Boston

On April 25, Boston police in riot gear broke up the protests, arresting 108 at the camp. Four officers were injured during the arrests. Police said protesters were violating city ordinances by camping out in the alley, which is not solely owned by Emerson.

Emerson College budget cuts and layoffs

Emerson said the enrollment decline is believed to be "a one-year phenomenon," but it will still require "immediate spending reductions" to make up for lost tuition and housing revenue.

Some of those spending cuts will include layoffs - potentially at the faculty level.

"We will limit our staff and faculty searches next year and carefully review existing programs and offerings for future savings," the college said. "Finally, we will need to eliminate some staff positions, both vacant and filled, and potentially reduce some faculty positions."

Emerson enrolled 1,002 first-year students in the fall of 2022, according to the most recently available numbers on the college's website.

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