With the weak economy, nationwide job cuts, and a more competitive workforce, community colleges have experienced a tremendous enrollment boom. As Inside Higher Ed reveals, community college enrollment rates have been increasing at a steady pace for the past two school years. In fact, experts predict that the 2009 fall semester will result in record breaking enrollment counts.
To accommodate the enrollment boom, community colleges have been forced to balance their available resources with the immense demands of new students. In fact, due to the rising student enrollment rates, “Some community colleges are exploring innovative ways to serve their growing student bodies, make better use of facilities and attract new professors.”
The Community College Boom: The Impact on Campus
Campuses in nearly all states are experiencing various degrees of enrollment hikes. Some theorize that the growth in enrollment is due to the recession’s effect on job cuts and lay-offs; many unemployed workers are finding themselves unskilled to compete in today’s aggressive job market.
Adding to this, many schools have noticed a “Marked increase in the number of students looking to transfer to a four-year institution.” As community colleges allow students to earn college credit much more affordably, many financially savvy students are attending a local community college prior to a more expensive four-year university or private institution. For example, one New York school located in Syracuse, Onondaga Community College (OCC), has experienced a tremendous surge in the enrollment of transfer students. In fact, an estimated 70 percent of 2009’s students are planning to transfer after obtaining credits from OCC.
Undoubtedly, Onondaga and its surrounding New York state schools are not alone in this shift. As KSDK News reveals, similar patterns are erupting at various Missouri colleges as well. On average, Missouri community colleges are expecting their enrollment rates to increase 8%, while other campuses are bracing for a 13% increase. For example, St. Louis Community College (SLCC) has been forced to expand their class offerings, as a record 5,800 students have enrolled for the fall 2009 semester. According to SLCC, the appeals of cheaper tuition are continually drawing in younger students, while the struggling economy is attracting older students who are finding themselves without job prospects.
How College Campuses are Adapting to a Rise in Enrollment
Like any business in a weakened economy, community college campuses have been forced to cut back on their spending, reduce their budgets, and increase their efficiency in order to remain resilient. While the increase in enrollment allows colleges to earn more tuition payments, the revenues do not offset the loss in state and national funding. Akin to most branches of government, community colleges have experienced serious budget cuts – leaving campuses with fewer resources, yet greater students to serve.
Some schools, as The Dallas Morning News reveals, have developed creative plans to manage the tremendous growth in the student population. For example, to accommodate the 18% rise in the student population, Collin County’s Community College District, located in northern Texas, has implemented a medley of strategies, ranging from building more classrooms to creating more off-campus classes.
Some campuses in the Collin County Community College District have begun construction on new facilities and educational buildings. For example, Trinity River Community College campuses, located in Fort Worth and Dallas, are striving to manage a combined total of 3,800 students. With the two campuses running out of space, Dallas County leaders have recently opened up new campuses in five other surrounding Texas cities! Additionally, “To accommodate crowds, local colleges have had to scramble somewhat, adding faculty members and class sections.”
Adding to the classroom modifications, some schools have implemented more attractive housing incentives to reduce traffic congestion and parking issues. Additionally, many schools are offering more off-campus classes, allowing many students to work through the course material at home via the internet. In fact, Texas’ Tarrant County has reported a record high enrollment number for distance learners, with nearly 11,000 students are currently participating in off-campus classes.
Of course, other community colleges have coped with the enrollment boom in other way, including implementing waiting lists and cancelling Friday classes. However, with innovation and the increased revenues from tuition fees, hopefully more community colleges can welcome new students with open campuses.