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CUNY Schools See Steep Drop In Enrollment Amid Pandemic

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) -- Colleges across the country are seeing a steep drop in their enrollment, and the City University of New York is part of that growing trend.

CUNY schools have offered New Yorkers economic mobility, but there are fewer students enrolling, and that has an impact on the city.

"When you have a drop in 100 students, you can pretty well estimate what that impact is going to be over the long haul," said Daniel Lemons, university provost.

Lemons told CBS2's Kevin Rincon a big reason for the decline is the pandemic.

"Unemployment in New York is still double the national average, and that's a lot in the lower-paying jobs and many of our students are in those jobs," he said.

In the fall of 2019, 271,242 students were enrolled at CUNY schools. A year later, that number shrank by more than 10,000.

In that time, CUNY's community colleges saw the biggest drop, going from nearly 92,000 students down to 69,000 just a year later.

Cathleen Tan is a nursing student at LaGuardia Community College.

"It's because of the pandemic. You know, online classes, it's hard, it's not easy," she said.

She says virtual learning forced many students out, and it's not just here.

A national study found that across the country, undergraduate enrollment was down 6.6.% from fall 2019 to fall 2021. That's more than 1 million students opting not to go to college.

Andrew Walker works at LaGuardia.

"People started looking at situations other than what education brings because there were job openings, and I think people went to jobs," he said.

The hope is that students will eventually come back.

"Community colleges are there to serve the people for a better cause, for a better life. I think they'll come back," Walker said.

For now, to try and help, CUNY is doing what it can to make their schools more accessible.

"Whether it's getting their monthly subway pass or whether it's access to food banks or help with housing," Lemons said.

He says higher learning should always be about creating opportunity.

CBS2's Kevin Rincon contributed to this report.

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