By: Avi Strauss  | 

Sy Syms Student Population Overtakes Yeshiva College, Beren Enrollment Down Nearly 200 Since 2013

According to the latest data revealed by YU’s Office of Institutional Research, the Wilf Sy Syms student population has surpassed Yeshiva College’s for the first time ever, becoming the larger of the two undergraduate programs on the men’s campus. This follows a five year trend of the Sy Syms student body increasing in size.

As per the report, there are 525 undergraduate men in Sy Syms and 500 in YC. The numbers in the data set indicated diverged slightly from the numbers released by the Office of Student Life for student council elections, to be held later this week. Candidates are required to collect signatures from a third of the student body they seek to represent.

The report also indicated total enrollment at the Beren campus is currently 885, down from 1,092 in 2013.

The male undergraduate population is down 50 students between Fall 2016 and Spring 2017, to 1025. However, this change exhibits what appears to be a natural fluctuation for the Wilf campus between semester to semester numbers when compared to data sets for the past 5 years.

“As with all enrollment numbers at any college, we see trends, and the job of the Admissions professionals is to make sense of them by rethinking recruiting strategies to appeal to the widest spectrum of students whose goals, both social and academic are most closely matched to our mission,” noted Director of Undergraduate Admissions Geri Mansdorf.  “Many small private colleges are struggling nationally, and YU is fortunate to be in the unique position of offering what no other university or undergraduate program can offer the Orthodox student who is committed to the best secular education in a Torah true environment.”

Similarly,  Dr. Monique C. Katz Dean of Undergraduate Faculty of Arts and Sciences Karen Bacon observed, “People make individual decisions, but those decisions reflect group behavior.” She stressed that trends in decision making are often the result of a series of different factors and that just as they’ve changed over the past few years, they can shift again in the next few.

Dean Bacon continued: “People are perceiving more options [in education] than they ever have in the past”  and that “there has been a sociological shift in what people see as appropriate preparation for a successful life.” Nonetheless, she believes the “strength of Jewish community is in quality education with a Torah component.”

Sy Syms was founded in 1987 after a $22 million dollar donation from philanthropists and businessman Sy Syms, along with other businesspeople. Since 2012, the Sy Syms Wilf population has risen from 309 full-time students to the 525 students enrolled today. During that same period, Yeshiva College’s population has declined from 739 to 500 full-time students.

Although it is unclear what specific factors have caused this swing in favor of the business undergraduate program, it is likely a combination of interest, job prospects and skill acquisition, and the addition of the Sy Syms honors program and the Business Intelligence and Market Analytics major.

In a meeting with The Commentator, Sy Syms Dean Moses Pava and Dean Michael Strauss detailed a variety of societal and institutional factors responsible for the increasing Sy Syms enrollment.

They noted two major goals they accomplished at the outset of their tenures six years ago: creating a Sy Syms honors program and obtaining accreditation from the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (or AACSB International), often regarded as the standard for business school quality, although the association itself has since lost its accreditation from the United States Department of Education. According the the AACSB website, only 786 business schools have their accreditation out of thousands of business schools across the world.

“Students are looking at the bottom line. Going to a business school immediately gives students the tools for work, improving their job prospects,” said Pava.  He proceeded to note the high rate of job placement or full-time enrollment in graduate programs (95%) that alumni report 6 months after graduating.

The deans directly credited the Advising Center and the Career Center for producing results that current undergraduates are noticing and responding to with their academic choices.

Both Pava and Strauss made sure to note the societal shift that yielded the trend towards business school. Applications to undergraduate business programs are in fact up across the country. According to Fortune Magazine, applications to undergraduate business programs rose 14% from the 2008-2009 academic year to 2012-2013, paralleling the shift in enrollment on the Wilf campus, indicating this isn’t simply a YU-specific phenomenon.

Data from the National Center for Education Statistics notes that in 2013-2014, the number of undergraduate degrees conferred in business was 359,000, more than any other field, and far exceeding the runner-up, health professions and related programs, in which 199,000 degrees conferred that same year.

The increasing Sy Syms student population and changes made to the program seems to have born fruit. Currently there are 100 students in the Sy Syms Honors program, and Sy Syms was recently ranked 16th for best bachelor’s programs in accounting by

Further, the larger student body has driven up the average composite SAT score for Sy Syms undergrads nearly 100 points, to 1206 from 1111 in 2011.  

Both deans also noted developments in the way information is communicated in the technological age and the ways they’ve responded, creating the Business Intelligence and Marketing Analytics major, as well as revamping the finance faculty.

Dean Bacon noted both liberal arts colleges are making strides in this area as well, referencing the work of professor Judah Diament, whom The Commentator interviewed last year, in developing new, comprehensive computer science programming for the computer science major itself, and for data analytics in the humanities and social sciences. In these areas, Bacon said students pursuing degrees in liberal arts could serve as communication “bridges” in the workplace, between those with the technical skills to collect data and those to whom the information is most relevant.

Crafting information “narratives” will also be an important skill for students in the workplace, and she said the undergraduate colleges are adapting to make sure students are equipped to do so.

She concluded that such interpretive and deliberative skills are necessary for individual growth: “I think a requirement for a full life is to value education, education  that includes reading, writing, researching  and debating ideas in all their richness.”

The drop in enrollment at the Beren campus is entirely reflected in enrollment at Stern College for women, which has declined to 728, from 936 since 2013. Sy Syms enrollment at the Beren campus has ticked upwards over that time, although at a far slower rate than on the men’s campus, increasing 20 students between 2013 and 2017, to 157 business undergraduates.

Commenting on the recent downward trend in Beren enrollment, Ms. Mansdorf pointed towards developments in the decisions made by women post-high school. “we are seeing an uptick in women who either choose to spend additional time learning in Israel as well as an increase in those choosing to attend college and do Sherut Le’Umi there” she said. Often, women who elect to stay in Israel for Sherut Le’Umi (national service) rescind their enrollment and admissions has been contacted by students explaining their decisions to do so.  

She also pointed out that admissions could be looking at a new upward trend in enrollment: “Our application numbers are up significantly this year, but of course, given that 80% of our students will spend at least one or two years of study in Israel, we will only see the positive outcome of all this effort when they return to the States to study at YU.”

Undergraduate Admissions is hoping to make that turnaround a reality in the coming years.



Image: YU’s Flickr. This year’s Jewish Job Fair attracted crowds of employers and potential employees. Professional placement after graduation may be one factor on Syms’s growth.