Cape Fear Community College in Wilmington, NC has received notice from its accreditor, the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC) that the accrediting agency has placed a “Warning” status on the school’s accreditation.
According to the notice, CFCC is being “warned” by its accreditor because of the number of full-time faculty it has on staff in relation to the number of students the school serves. In recent years, CFCC has bucked the national trend of falling community college enrollment. CFCC has nearly doubled its unduplicated headcount and increased the number of full-time-equivalent (FTE) students by more than 17%.
In 2019, the school provided 191,580 hours of credit instruction to 6,383 FTE students with a staff of 267 full-time faculty members and 268 part-time instructors. In 2020, the first year of the pandemic, the number of full-time faculty members remained the same, but the number of part time instructors dropped slightly to 259 as did the number of FTE students to 6225. The number of credit hours of instruction also dropped to 187,654.
By 2021, the number of full-time instructors at CFCC dropped to 245 and the number of part-time instructors the school reported on its payroll sank to 103, but the number of FTE students increased to 6,466 and the number of credit hours of instruction increased to 193,982. Using partial data from 2022, the school reported an unduplicated headcount of 22,645 students, and a FTE student count of 7,495. The school also reported an increase in the number of credit hours of instruction to 224,852. That’s a 17.3% increase in the number of credit hours without a corresponding increase in the number of instructional staff.
Accreditation wobbly after faculty census drops, enrollment increases
Where are the “extra” students coming from? According to National Clearinghouse for Educational Statistics data, CFCC’s online student count has grown remarkably. In 2019, CFCC reported that it had 1,259 students enrolled exclusively in online classes, and 2,595 students enrolled in at least some online classes.
The next year, CFCC reported that it had 1,821 students enrolled exclusively in online classes, and 5,103 enrolled in some online classes. By 2021, the school reported that it had 5,709 students enrolled exclusively in online classes, but just 707 students enrolled partially in online courses. In 2022, the school reported that it was enrolling 4,913 students exclusively in online courses and another 5,254 students in at least some online classes.
CFCC’s failure to maintain its full-time faculty-to-student ratio is problematic for its accreditors. Additionally, SACSCOC’s warning letter identified the school’s failure “to identify, evaluate, and publish goals and outcomes for student achievement appropriate to the institution’s mission, the nature of the students it serves, and the kinds of programs offered. Further, this standard expects an institution to use multiple measures to document student success.”
SACSCOC’s warning here is really meant for other schools that want to expand their online course offerings. Maintain our standards or lose your accreditation.
Eastern Gateway Community College in Steubenville, OH fell into a similar trap by cramming as many students as possible into course sections over strong faculty objections.
I have to point out that lots of community colleges offer online classes and don’t experience the same “success” that certain schools do. It’s curious, especially when the national trend points to sinking enrollments. Unlimited growth in any market is not sustainable, and those who attempt to game the numbers usually end up at the bottom of a rubble pile.
Photo Credit: Paul J. Everett