By Helen Streubert, AICUNJ Board Chair
After months of uncertainty, preparation, and added costs related to the COVID 19 pandemic, the 14 non-profit independent institutions of higher education in New Jersey have started the Fall 2020 semester. All of our institutions, many of which are small, had great concern about whether students were going to even continue with their education, what the semester would look like, and how we could safely and productively serve our students, faculty, and staff.
As the Fall 2020 semester started, however, all of us are breathing a sigh of relief. Our independent college campuses, as a general rule, are pleasantly surprised that students continued to choose our institutions to begin or continue their college education. Though the semester has started under a “new normal” and is certainly unlike previous years, the dire predictions on enrollment due to health and economic conditions were not realized.
Most of the 14 private colleges and universities in New Jersey have reported a higher than expected enrollment rate, both among first-year and returning students. The economic and racial diversity that we are proud of is not anticipated to be impacted, and our campuses will continue to match the overall diversity of New Jersey. As we have seen throughout higher education, there have been a small number of students who have chosen to defer so they could begin in the spring or next fall in order to receive the traditional campus experience.
As with most of the colleges in New Jersey and the northeast, instruction is largely being offered remotely, though a number of New Jersey independent colleges and universities are offering hybrid and in-person instruction as well. Students are reporting that they want to be on campus if the option is offered to them and are happy to be back in school whether they’re going to in-person classes or are studying remotely. Campus life is primarily virtual, but the majority of students are very much engaged in the virtual events creatively offered by the many campus clubs and programs available to them.
Safety, of course, is and will be the first priority of our colleges, and to date, positive COVID tests among the NJ private institutions are the lowest in the state. Not one school has reported more than a handful of COVID-19 positive cases in the first month of reopening. We are proud of the partnership of our students, faculty and staff to ensure that everyone is safe and complying with rules and protocols. We know, however, that we must continue to be vigilant to keep our campuses as safe as possible.
All in all, we are proud that New Jersey students continue to choose non-profit independent colleges and pleased that we are seeing students back on campus, learning safely, and enjoying the new campus experience. Many of these students are glad to be close to home during the pandemic, while other students too far away to commute to campus are taking advantage of enrolling in all remote coursework so they can save money by not living on campus. Students have decided to choose NJ independent colleges because of their smaller and manageable size, student-centric focus, quality education, the overall low number of COVID-19 cases in the state at present, and as always, because of the diverse communities and educational opportunities offered.