Westchester Colleges Adapt to Post-Pandemic Career Needs

With a post-pandemic return to (almost) normal this fall, local colleges bring programming that meets student and employer demand.

After the COVID-19 pandemic shut down classrooms last year and sent students and faculty scrambling to figure out new online learning technology, colleges and universities across Westchester eagerly welcomed students back to their dormitories and classroom buildings this fall.

“Students are hungry for that face-to-face opportunity,” says Dr. Milagros Peña, president of Purchase College in Harrison. “They crave that connection with each other. They have missed that, and they are excited about coming back.”

With the pandemic fresh on their minds and with a smart nod to where the jobs are in Westchester, many students — freshmen teenagers, as well as seasoned professionals returning for graduate degrees — are particularly interested in healthcare fields.

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Photo Courtesy of Manhattanville College
Photo Courtesy of Manhattanville College

“From the market trends we study, it’s clear that healthcare is the big one in Westchester,” says Dr. Seamus Carey, president of Iona College in New Rochelle.

“In general, I think the health sciences are going to explode,” adds Dr. Michael Geisler, president of Manhattanville College in Purchase. “Post-COVID, we have seen that we will need an army of public-health experts.”

Students are also signing up in big numbers for anything related to technology and the ways it is rapidly exploding across so many fields and professions, administrators say. Still, a basic liberal-arts education remains very much in vogue.

Here is a closer look at where our local colleges and universities are focusing their attention this fall.


“We are really looking forward to having a fully reopened campus,” says Dr. Michael Geisler, president of the Purchase-based private college. “That’s what liberal-arts education is all about. After COVID, we learned that in-person learning is really, really important for student development. It’s not just in the classroom — it’s interacting with their peers, having different experiences, meeting and interacting with people from very different backgrounds.”

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Enrollment is particularly strong in the fields of education and nursing, Geisler adds: “The School of Nursing and Health Sciences is booming, growing by leaps and bounds. We’re incredibly grateful to the local healthcare facilities that have taken our students.”

Manhattanville is also seeing strong student interest in sports studies and sports management, says Geisler, noting, “Sports in general are very strong here.”

Students are also interested in what he calls “micro-credentialing,” in which they take a course or two to learn specific skills for a particular field.

Post-COVID, the school has formed a task force that is looking into the burgeoning area of working from home — what it may mean for staff at the college and for students who may be taking jobs where they work from home permanently or at least some part of the week.

Manhattanville College. Photo Courtesy of Manhattanville College.
Manhattanville College. Photo Courtesy of Manhattanville College.

“We want to train students to quickly adapt and change,” Geisler says. “Dramatic job changes can occur as often as 16 times in a career,” he says, citing a study by the McKinsey Global Institute, The Post Pandemic Economy: The Future of Work After COVID-19.

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The school is also looking to expand its adult-education programs in its School of Professional Studies, he says. “More and more low-skill jobs will be done by [artificial intelligence]. We need to retrain that workforce for new skills and jobs.”


Pace University. Photo Courtesy of Pace University.
Pace University. Photo Courtesy of Pace University.

“We’re excited about fully reopening,” says Marvin Krislov, president of Pace, which at press time was “expecting to be fully in-person for the fall with a full slate of activities, including athletics and community events.”

The vast majority of courses will be in-person, with some remote and hybrid programs in graduate areas and for some undergraduate classes, especially for some of the international students, Krislov says.

“We have a lot of new programs coming online, particularly graduate programs,” Krislov adds. These include MS degrees in finance, cybersecurity, data science, and computer science. “We’re finding that people may be rethinking their careers or want to come back for more training for their current jobs.”

Other graduate programs at the school’s Pleasantville campus that have very strong enrollment numbers include its MS programs in both in mental health counseling (up more than 30%) and data science, and a PhD program in computer science. In the College of Health Professions, Pace is reporting strong enrollment numbers for MS degrees in occupational therapy, physician assistant, and family nurse practitioner.

Overall, Pace is seeing an increase in graduate student enrollment, particularly in the areas of law and healthcare, Krislov says. “Those are the big trends.”

This fall has seen a restart of the law school’s flexible program, which offers weekend and evening classes. “That has been a huge hit,” he says. “We’re drawing a lot of people who are currently working, some of whom are already in the law field and want their JD degree.”

Photo Courtesy of Pace University
Photo Courtesy of Pace University

—Marvin Krislov President, Pace University

“We are eager to partner with employers in the field,” Krislov adds. “We want to be educating the workforce of tomorrow. I’m on the board of the Business Council of Westchester, and I meet regularly with business leaders in the county. [I’m always seeking to ask:] What are your needs? How can we help?”

Pace will continue to have partnerships and close relations with Westchester Community College, he says. “I think that is something higher-ed has figured out: We need to work together better, to have more collaboration with other educational institutions.”


Mercy College. Photo Courtesy of Mercy College.
Mercy College. Photo Courtesy of Mercy College.

“We geared up for an as-close-to-normal fall as humanly possible,” says Adam Castro, vice president for enrollment management for Mercy in Dobbs Ferry. “We will be back to a full on-campus learning environment. Everything that we moved to online during the pandemic will be back on campus.”

Mercy will still have a lot of distance-learning options and a fully online option for both undergraduate and graduate students, he says. “We have it set up to offer the best of both worlds.”

New incoming students want the on-campus experience, Castro stresses. “They want to be in the residential halls full-time on both our Manhattan and Dobbs Ferry campuses, and we’re excited about that. Classes are one thing, but part of the college experience is very much in person, meeting new people and taking advantage of the events being offered,” he explains.

Mercy is also seeing a great deal of interest in all health-related fields, including nursing (on both the undergrad and graduate levels), biology, and health science, as well as computer science and cybersecurity, Castro says. “Also, business administration, which had been flat for us,” he adds.

Photo Courtesy of Mercy College
Photo Courtesy of Mercy College

—Adam Castro Vice President of Admissions, Mercy College

Regarding the Family Nurse Practitioner program, “those applications are exploding,” he says. “Our occupational and physical therapy programs are very strong.”

On the graduate level, “student enrollment has grown significantly,” with an increased interest in mental health counseling and psychology and master’s degree programs in computer science and cybersecurity, says Castro. “I think the pandemic opened students’ eyes to different workforce needs.”

Interestingly, a fully online master’s program in English literature “has drawn more interest than ever,” he points out. “Perhaps people are yearning for a bit of a distraction or looking for ways to become more well-rounded.”


Iona College. Photo Courtesy of Iona College.
Iona College. Photo Courtesy of Iona College.

In May, Iona announced that it had closed a deal to acquire the 28-acre former Concordia College campus in Bronxville and turn it into a school of health sciences. “We’ll start working there in the fall, upgrading the facilities and getting the campus ready,” says Iona president Dr. Seamus Carey.

On its New Rochelle campus this fall, Carey hopes it “feels a bit more like it was before the pandemic, which will provide a big boost for students, faculty, and staff,” he says. “There is a real desire to be here in person. Students are clamoring to be here.”

Health science continues to be a big field of interest, and this will continue for a while in the region and statewide, Carey predicts. The undergraduate nursing program that was launched in August 2020 is “doing really well,” he says. “We’re up 16 percent over last year in the number of enrolled students. It’s now fully subscribed in just one year.”

Technology also continues to big, Carey says. “We’re focusing on integrating tech into other fields,” including finance, healthcare, and entrepreneurship. “This kind of integrated curricula is what will really help students, help them turn their degrees into jobs.”

“Our calling card for many years has been accounting,” Carey continues, “and these undergrad business programs continue to be strong.” On the graduate level, the MBA and education and occupational therapy programs remain popular.

Photo by Josh Cuppek
Photo by Josh Cuppek

—Dr. Seamus Carey President, Iona College

This fall, the college also welcomed a new dean, Dr. Lynne Richardson, at its LaPenta School of Business. She joins Iona from the University of Mary Washington in Fredericksburg, VA, where she had served as dean of the College of Business since 2011.

Post-pandemic, the college is looking at ways in which some staff can continue to work remotely, which will vary by department. “This option helps us attract a different, better level of talent,” Carey says.


Westchester Community College. Photo Courtesy by Westchester Community College.
Westchester Community College. Photo Courtesy by Westchester Community College.

This fall, Westchester Community College, which is celebrating its 75th anniversary this year, returned to in-person classes at its main campus in Valhalla, as well as its five satellite sites, in Ossining, Peekskill, Mount Vernon, Yonkers, and White Plains. The Yonkers extension center has been so successful that the college will open a new Yonkers campus in the fall of 2022.

The college has welcomed students back with a blend of full in-person classes, some hybrid classes with a mix of remote and in-person learning, and ones that are entirely remote and online.

“Applications are up, and we’re seeing more applicants who are adults rather than high-school seniors,” says college president Dr. Belinda Miles. “They may have been downsized from a job and are seeking new jobs, particularly in the healthcare and information technology fields.”

WCC is seeing an increase in the number of students who are seeking short-term training, she says: “Many of them already have BA degrees and are coming back to us for more specialized training. With an associate degree in nursing, our students can become RNs right away.”

Within the healthcare field, popular programs include respiratory therapy, radiological technology, and health information technology, says Miles, noting that many of her students are first responders.

“We continue to have a robust enrollment in traditional liberal arts,” she adds. “We have a strong record of student transfers to four-year colleges, and we want to continue to prepare them for that.”

The college is closely aligned with the Westchester County Office of Economic Development, which has designated four priority sectors: advanced manufacturing, financial technology, bioscience, and sustainable energy, she says. “We are part of that pipeline to prepare students for these fields. Our curriculum is constantly evolving.”


Purchase College. Photo Courtesy of Purchase College.
Purchase College. Photo Courtesy of Purchase College.

“Looking nationally, there has been talk of students taking this coming school year off as a gap year or not going to college at all,” says college president Dr. Milagros Peña. “In fact, we’re seeing that students want to come back to college.”

During the pandemic, “we learned that students were not doing as well when they studied and took classes remotely,” she says. “Students are more successful academically and socially when they are on campus.”

For the fall, the college planned for 80% of its classes fully in person on campus, she says. “I think we will continue to see more of a need for hybrid learning,” with a mix of some online coursework combined with in-person classes.

Photo Courtesy of Purchase College
Photo Courtesy of Purchase College

—Dr. Milagros Peña President, Purchase College

In most years, about two-thirds of the Purchase students live in campus dormitories, Peña says. “We usually have about 2,700 in dorms. I think it will be closer to 2,000 this fall,” because of ongoing COVID-related concerns and restrictions.

She also points out that the college is seeing a trend of more students not declaring a major right away. “I think they are seeing the benefits of coming to a liberal-arts college like ours, where they can pursue and think through a range of studies. Some surveys show that employers have really come to see the benefits of a liberal-arts education where students learn critical thinking, writing, and communication skills.”

With Regeneron Pharmaceuticals and other biotechnology companies in the county, “we are responding to the Westchester workforce by launching a new biotechnology concentration for students, in response to the need here,” Peña says.

The college is also launching a new minor, in television studies, which addresses the expansion of the film-and-TV industry and other media in the Westchester area and elsewhere.

Related: These Are Westchester’s Dedicated Leaders in the Healthcare Field

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