Heading into an academic year that will feature remote-only learning or some type of hybrid learning model, a number of four-year higher-education institutions in New Jersey say enrollment for 2020 is quite strong considering the current health crisis.

Much of the application and acceptance process for fall 2020 occurred before the coronavirus emergency impacted New Jersey, so colleges and universities may see more of an impact leading up to 2021.

"The pandemic did not stop anybody from wanting to come to Montclair State," said Joseph Brennan, vice president for communications and marketing at MSU. "We've got more deposits, more commitments to us from freshmen this year than we had this time last year."

Enrollment in master's and Ph. D programs is up about 9% from last year, Brennan added.

"It's hard to say what next year will look like," Brennan said. "I think what we're learning from this year is that our students see the value of continuing their college educations, that some of them are actually drawn to college because of the difficult economy."

Brennan said the public institution will likely see some fluctuation between now and the first day of classes, August 25, but the school is "guardedly optimistic" that the year will start with a "full complement of students."

Institutions across the state extended their 2020 commitment dates, the deadline by which students must decide whether they'd like to attend a specific school. Schools allowed students to make this choice by June 1, or even later in some cases.

Saint Peter's University, located in Jersey City, has seen no increases in the number of students requesting to withdraw or take a leave.

"The new-student numbers at this point in time are reflecting a positive trend for enrollment, but the reality is that we know many college-bound students and their families are still weighing their options due to concerns about in-person learning, financial/economic impacts and the possibility of a late fall resurgence causing another disruption," said Elizabeth Sullivan, vice president for enrollment marketing and management at Saint Peter's.

At Rutgers University, first-year enrollment is behind 4% compared to last year, a university spokesperson said. But university enrollment for all undergraduates, new and continuing, is 2.6% ahead of 2019 numbers.

Meanwhile, the number of incoming transfer students is 11% above target at The College of New Jersey.

"What that's telling us is that students who were in other states are now transferring back to their home," said Lisa Angeloni, vice president for enrollment management at TCNJ.

That uptick, one that's expected to grow before the academic year begins, is helping to cover a 3% shortfall in first-year enrollment.

"We typically never miss our first-year enrollment targets," Angeloni said. "This year for the first year in 20 years we are going to come up short."

Angeloni said TCNJ is moving ahead as if 2021 will be a typical academic year, but recruitment efforts have to change due to the current health concerns.

"We have a ton of virtual recruitment happening, we're having open houses virtually right now, and we'll be doing virtual high school visits, virtual meetings with students," she said.

Saint Peter's said it's innovating how to connect and build relationships with future classes of students.

College application deadlines for regular decision typically fall between the start of the year and Feb. 1.

Contact reporter Dino Flammia at dino.flammia@townsquaremedia.com.

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