Is Emerson’s Enrollment Crisis Caused by Protests?

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Photo by Joe Yates

Emerson College in Boston is facing a sharp drop in freshman enrollment for the upcoming fall semester, prompting the administration to announce potential budget cuts and faculty layoffs. College President Jay Bernhardt and other administrators have attributed the decline to several factors, including broader national trends away from smaller private institutions, disruptions caused by the new FAFSA rollout, and recent student protests.

The college, known for its arts and communication programs, struggled to handle pro-Palestinian protests in April. At the time, demonstrators set up tents in a public alley next to Boylston Street, much like similar protests at Columbia University. The protesters demanded that Emerson call for a ceasefire in Gaza and divest from companies associated with Israel. The situation escalated when Boston police, dressed in full riot gear, intervened on April 25 and arrested 108 students. Injuries were reported by four officers.

This protest activity coincided with key student recruitment events, and cast a negative light on the campus through the extensive press coverage and resulting social media attention. Emerson College administrators believe these incidents deterred prospective students, noting a substantial shortfall in enrollment deposits.

In response to the financial implications of lower enrollment, Emerson administrators announced immediate spending reductions. These will likely include the elimination of some staff positions and a reduction in faculty hiring. The college plans to review its program offerings to look for areas additional savings may be possible.

Despite these challenges, Emerson’s leaders remain hopeful that the enrollment dip will be a temporary setback reflected in only the 2024-2025 academic year. The college is actively working to support prospective students in completing the FAFSA to secure federal funding for their education.