Follow up on fall enrollments

At Pellissippi State Community College's Hardin Valley Campus, students head toward the Bill Haslam Center for Math and Science. (Photo: PSCC)

As more community colleges announce their fall enrollments, the figures seem to support our initial report that it may be a promising term for two-year colleges.

Many community colleges are seeing modest increases, with some reporting larger increases and some continuing to see numbers dip. But even the ones that are seeing a spike typically have a way to go to cover the huge enrollment declines two-year colleges experienced during the Covid pandemic.

Still, seeing a reversal of recent trends has many in the sector hopeful.

What’s working

Many of the colleges reporting increases cite their strategies to boost enrollment, from improved student services and wraparound support, to additional programs, especially in career and technical education. They also typically note that dual enrollment has been part of the equation.

In Tennessee, Pellissippi State Community College is up 3% in enrollment this semester, an increase of 258 students over fall 2022, for a total of 8,710 this fall (5,476 of whom are full-time students). The college says the most significant enrollment growth is in dual enrollment. There are 1,900 dual-enrollment students this fall, an increase of 336 students over last fall.

More offerings in various modalities – online, remote and hybrid (both on campus and online) – is also what Hudson Valley Community College, in part, credits its 3.5% enrollment increase, from 7,397 last fall to 7,674 this fall. In fall 2018, for example, 493 of the 2,490 total course sections taught – about 20% – were either online or hybrid. This semester, 1,086 of 2,456 course sections are scheduled to be online, remote or hybrid, which is 44% of all course sections being taught, according to the New York college.

Some advocates also speculate that the national focus on student loan debt may be prompting families to consider their options. Discussions about the cost of four-year institutions and their return on investments often include the benefits of community college, transfers, apprenticeships, short-term job training and other alternatives to a baccalaureate.

Offering reduced or free tuition in some states are also driving up enrollments, such as MassReconnect, a program in Massachusetts to fund free community college for adults 25 and older who do not already have a college degree. After more than a decade of declining enrollment, the number of students at Greenfield Community College (GCC) in Massachusetts increased this fall by the largest percentage since 2010, school officials say. As of Tuesday, 1,554 students were enrolled for the fall semester, which is an 8.6% bump over last year. As of September 15, 120 GCC students have benefited from MassReconnect, with 20% of those students being new to the college.

Next steps

Although the focus is still on getting students in the door, college leaders are well aware of the other challenge: keeping them.

“Now the real work begins,” says Mario Castillo, chancellor of Lone Star College, which reports that it enrolled 88,809 students for the fall semester, an increase of 4.2% from last year. “Our focus is making sure these students receive the support and resources necessary to finish their studies. Many students come to us with doubts, challenges and personal struggles. It will be up to all of us to ensure those obstacles do not get in their way and that we provide the assistance that helps them discover their true potential.”

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.