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Fall enrollment a mixed bag for community colleges

Community colleges are having a hard time predicting fall enrollment this year. On one hand, recessions usually bode well for community college enrollment. As the job market tightens, people return to college to upgrade their skills. Recent high school graduates may enroll to wait out the recession. Previously employed workers may enroll to retrain for another career. The Great Recession ended in 2009, so community colleges are ready for recession-fueled enrollment gains.

It’s no surprise, therefore, that enrollment has surged at Luzerne County Community College in Nanticoke, PA. Officials there attribute the rise in enrollment to students who waited until the last minute to see how their preferred four-year university would hold classes. Students who opted to stay home flooded LCCC earlier this month in order to make progress on their educational goals.

In most places, fall enrollment is dropping

On the other hand, the COVID-19 pandemic has chased students from campus. Many colleges and universities have declared their intention to conduct classes virtually, but community colleges don’t always have that luxury. In occupational education classes, for example, face-to-face instruction is the norm, and there is no substitute. Additionally, occupational programs often require specialized lab equipment and materials, as well as coaching from an experienced instructor. Not being able to avoid face-to-face instruction has left some students on edge.

It’s no surprise, therefore, that enrollment has plunged by 17% at Mohave Community College in Kingman, AZ. According to officials there, many MCC students both work and attend school. With Arizona being particularly hard-hit by COVID-19 this summer, many MCC students opted to wait out the pandemic at home.

Despite the substantial drop in enrollment figures, college officials say MCC can weather the storm, thanks to conservative fiscal management. (For the record, MCC does not have any Vice Presidents, but they do have three administrators with “Chief” in their titles.) Other Arizona community colleges report enrollment drops of between 10% and 30% over Fall 2019.

According to Inside Higher Ed, fall community college enrollments are generally down between 3%-30%. Officials at Laramie County Community College in Laramie, WY attributed the sharp drop in their fall enrollment to the loss of dual-enrolled K-12 students. Some institutions, however, are reporting increases in enrollments over last year. Northwest State Community College in Archbold, OH has seen its enrollment jump by 10%. To date, the college has not had a single student or staff member test positive for COVID-19.

Michigan community college fall enrollments

So, how are Michigan community colleges faring? Many Michigan colleges have yet to announce their final fall enrollment numbers. Grand Rapids Community College indicated last week that its fall enrollment was down about 17%. GRCC anticipates an uptick in enrollments in the last few days before classes begin. Earlier this month, Kellogg Community College in Battle Creek reported that its fall enrollment was down by 15%. Earlier this summer, Lansing Community College officials said they were preparing for a 20% drop in fall enrollment. LCC began conducting classes on August 20.

Photo Credit: Seth Sawyers , via Flickr