Julia Nagel / Sun Staff Photographer

Two students enjoy the sun on a warm Ithaca November afternoon — three-quarters of enrolled students are studying from the Hill.

November 8, 2020

Three-Quarters of Enrolled Students Are Zooming From Ithaca This Fall

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Over halfway through Cornell’s in-person semester, filled with daily checks and biweekly nose swabs, the University has finally reported how many students are attending classes from the Hill. 

About 75 percent of all enrolled students are studying in Ithaca, based on course registration information, according to Jonathan Burdick, vice provost for enrollment.

Still, around a third of the approximately 17,700 students in Ithaca are enrolled only in online courses — most Cornell classes are online this semester. Nearly half of undergraduates are taking at least one in-person or hybrid class.

A higher percentage of the graduate students living in Ithaca are enrolled in some in-person courses or research, but the percentage of students living away from campus is higher for some professional programs in the Johnson College of Business.

In a predominantly virtual semester, many students grumbled at paying full price for a semester taking place from their bedrooms. Now, more than 600 undergraduates have taken a leave of absence this semester — avoiding a term defined by Zoom classes and club meetings, filled with health and cost concerns. This number usually falls closer to 500 in a normal year, Burdick said, marking about a 20 percent increase in leaves of absence. 

For first-year students, a college experience marred by 10-person masked gatherings and virtual classes likely pushed some to postpone their four years on campus. Across the country, enrollments slid as colleges went remote and ended the possibility of a campus college experience.

More than 120 first-year students took a gap year, which is double the typical number of enrollment deferrals Cornell normally approves, according to Burdick. The University also allowed students to defer a semester instead of an entire year, who will arrive in February along with about 50 first-year spring admits.

Burdick said he doesn’t expect these deferred enrollments to impact the acceptance rate for the Class of 2025 — who is already underway with the college application process. 

The total undergraduate enrollment, about 14,743 students, is a decrease, at just 97 percent of the University’s target enrollment. Burdick said Cornell is also at about 97 percent of the intended target enrollment for new and continuing graduate students. But Burdick said the University is at more than 99 percent of its target enrollment for new first-year students. 

Most international students are studying from one of Cornell’s 11 Study Away sites, where students take classes at a partner university in cities like Beijing or Rome. The international student population dropped from a total enrollment of 5,741 in fall 2019 to 5,146 this year — a 10.4 percent decrease.

But on South Hill, Ithaca College’s enrollment has dropped from 5,852 students in fall 2019 to 4,957 in fall 2020 during its all-remote semester. Low enrollment has forced the college to cut $30 million from its budget and slash 131 faculty positions, even as it plans to bring students back to campus this spring. 

Alongside the growing financial crisis and this year’s declining enrollment, the pandemic has cost colleges nationwide at least $120 billion, according to The New York Times. For Cornell, COVID-19 has resulted in $45 million in losses and an anticipated loss of $210 million more during the coming fiscal year. 

This year’s dip in enrollment has only exacerbated these losses, as the University looks to a spring semester with no announced plans.  

Meghana Srivastava ’23 contributed reporting.