Budding spring enrollments?


It’s still very early in the spring term, but a handful of community colleges in different parts of the country are gleefully — and hopefully — reporting enrollment increases for the new semester.

The announcements come in tow with a national report released Thursday that indicates fall 2022 enrollments at community colleges have stabilized — following massive declines during the Covid pandemic — and first-time enrollments at public two-year colleges were up in the fall.

In California, after two years of pandemic-driven enrollment declines, the San José–Evergreen Community College District (SJECCD) and its colleges announced on Thursday that they are seeing significant enrollment growth compared to last year, based on early 2023 spring term enrollment data. Both Evergreen Valley College (EVC) and San José City College (SJCC) reported a 15.1% increase in unduplicated student headcount.

“These are preliminary numbers that don’t reflect late-start classes or the adds and drops that typically take place at the beginning of each academic term,” SJECCD Interim Chancellor Raul Rodriguez said in a release. “This clearly shows that not only have we stemmed the tide in terms of the enrollment declines that impacted nearly every higher education institution during the Covid-19 pandemic, we have reversed that trend and are regaining much of that lost enrollment quickly.”

The district said increases compared to last spring are occurring among all racial and ethnic groups:

  • American Indian, 119%
  • Asian American/Pacific Islander, 5.5%
  • Black/African American, 33.8%
  • Latinx, 16.8%
  • White, 30.6%
  • Multi-racial students, 17%

NorthWest Arkansas Community College (NWACC) also this week announced double-digit increases. The unofficial preliminary count of enrolled academic-credit students was 7,418 on the 11th day of classes for the spring semester. That’s a 15.9% increase compared to the same time last spring.

The increase is on top of the one it experienced in the fall, when it reported 7,593 students — an increase of 7.9% from the fall 2021 enrollment of 7,037.

In Texas, Houston’s Lone Star College (LSC) experienced a 3% increase in spring enrollment from a year ago — 80,595 enrolled students in spring 2023 compared to 78,463 in spring 2022. The data represent credit enrollment only.

Strategies yielding results

The colleges seeing preliminary spring enrollment increases are crediting innovations to serve, retain and recruit students post Covid and their all-hands-on-deck approach.

“Such magnitude of growth in our spring enrollment is a direct result of our NWACC faculty and staff being so diligent and intentional in taking care of students inside and outside of the classroom,” said Justin White, NWACC vice president of student services.

EVS President Tammeil Gilkerson said the California college has invested a lot of time and energy into innovative recruitment and retention strategies to “ensure that not only are we bringing large numbers of new students onto campus, but we are also retaining and graduating the students that were already here.”

Those strategies include free tuition and zero fees to students enrolled in at least six units at either EVC or SJCC. At EVC, students taking 15 or more units can also receive up to $1,500 for textbooks and course materials.

The colleges also have kept about one-third of their classes online, which appeals to many students for myriad reasons.

“We know from surveys that what our students want and need are options,” Rodriguez said. “We have built our schedule with intention in order to make sure we are meeting the needs of our entire community.”

LSC Chancellor Stephen Head said more students are choosing face-to-face instruction at the Texas college. This semester, 42% of LSC students are receiving face-to-face instruction compared to 34% in spring 2022, he said.

But the college isn’t scaling back online programming. In fact, LSC recently launched its eight campus, LSC-Online, to provide students with more flexibility.

Another strategy that LSC officials think is paying off: offering multiple start dates and ensuring students receive the same content and the same credit regardless of when they start classes.

About the Author

Matthew Dembicki
Matthew Dembicki edits Community College Daily and serves as associate vice president of communications for the American Association of Community Colleges.
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