Two new state reports show positive signs for community college enrollments: In Illinois, the growth appears to be across several types of programs, while in North Carolina the growth is in short-term workforce and continuing education courses, thanks to a focused campaign.
The Illinois Community College System (ICCB) on Tuesday reported a spring-to-spring enrollment increase of 7.2%, from a headcount of 233,041 in spring 2022, to 249,836 this spring — the first such increase in five years. Instructional areas primarily dependent on in-person instruction had two of the largest enrollment increases: career and technical education (9.6%) and vocational skill training (10.1%).
Adult education programs saw enrollments increase by 29%, while enrollment for transfer programs edged up 6.4%. General studies certificate programs saw a 9.1% jump.
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Dual enrollment at Illinois community colleges continued to see double-digit increases this spring at 10.4%. Last spring, there was a 23.9% increase in these programs.
“This upward enrollment trend is encouraging and continues to signal a shift towards pre-pandemic levels,” ICCB Executive Director Brian Durham said in a release. “This data furthers our confidence that efforts to expand learning opportunities and increase access to a community college education are working.”
Focusing on adult learners
In North Carolina, enrollment increases among adult learners are the result of a focused campaign to recruit students older than age 25, according to a report from North Carolina Community College System (NCCCS) that was presented to state lawmakers. The initial campaign results showed adult learner enrollment increased by 10% from 2020 to 2022, jumping from 171,759 to 189,004.
The largest enrollment growth was in workforce and continuing education courses, which saw an increase of 19%, from 94,608 in fall 2020, to 112,510 in fall 2022. Enrollment in adult basic skills programs grew by 37%, from 13,510 to 18,455. Meanwhile, enrollment over the same period in curriculum programs (those that lead to associate degrees and transfer to universities) decreased by -10%, dropping from 59,853 to 53,858.
With $2 million in state funding, the pilot progams focused on older students who had some previous college credits but no degree, and those students who may have attended part-time for work or family reasons, according to the system, which awarded 29 grants to member colleges for marketing, outreach and other enrollment efforts. The system office also teamed with InsideTrack, a non-profit that works on enrollment and retention, to provide those services to students at 18 colleges.
NCCCS submitted its report to the General Assembly and asked for more funding to expand the program. Among its recommendations:
- Market to recruit adult learners with high-employer demand.
- Shorten time-to-degree completion by consistently awarding credit for prior learning.
- Track labor market outcomes for workforce and continuing education students
- Expand system office capacity to support adult learner recruitment and retention.