Historically, when the economy is up, enrollment is down at community colleges, mainly because people opt to work rather than go to school.
That doesn’t mean two-year colleges — many of which are seeing drops in enrollment — are just sitting back. They are looking at ways to keep enrollment steady, if not trying to increase it.
At Northwest-Shoals Community College (NW-SCC), 3,543 credit students unofficially enrolled for the fall 2018 semester, which is an increase of 101 students (just under 3 percent) from fall 2017 (3,442). NW-SCC officials says that bump is mainly due to distance education and dual enrollment of high school students.
For the college to grow, it must continue to listen to the needs of traditional and non-traditional students in the area, says NW-SCC President Glenda Colagross.
“It is always exciting to see growth in our student population, but to continue this growth, we have to be flexible,” she says. “The needs of our students have changed so much through distance education. Many of our traditional and non-traditional students prefer taking classes online instead of in the classroom. It is all about flexibility and convenience.”
Spike among online learners
The largest increase in student enrollment came from students taking only distance education courses. From fall 2017 to fall 2018, NW-SCC saw a 65 percent increase in distance-only students. Students taking at least one distance course increased by 47 percent.
“For the first time this fall, we took our capacity limits off our distance course offerings, and you can see that there is a growing student population that prefers the online format,” says April Cookson, the college’s director of distance education.
NW-SCC also reports significant enrollment increases in high school dual enrollment and nursing. The dual-enrollment student population increased approximately 28 percent, and associate degree nursing students increased about 17 percent.
Working with high schools
Much of the increase in dual enrollment is a result of new high school partnerships, says Tom Carter, assistant dean of admissions/recruitment.
“So many high school students are seeing the benefit of taking college courses while in high school,” he says. “Our high school partners are doing a great job making sure their students have access to Northwest-Shoals to fast-track their college experience and be successful.”
NW-SCC is not the only two-year college that has seen benefits from dual enrollment. Nationally, dual enrollment of high school students at community colleges has increased significantly — at many campuses it is driving enrollments — as students look to get a leg up on their postsecondary education and keep college costs down.