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Fall enrollment figures trickling in

Preliminary enrollment figures for the Fall 2023 semester are beginning to roll in from around the state and the nation. For example, Kellogg Community College announced earlier this week that its enrollment has risen by 12% compared to Fall 2022. That’s great for KCC; since 2010, it has lost nearly two-thirds of its enrollment.

Other colleges and universities are beginning to report enrollment figures, too. According to the CommonApp, the organization that manages applications for more than 1,000 colleges and universities in the United States, it reported a preliminary increase in the number of applications for the 2023-24 academic year.

Another measure of prospective student interest in post-secondary enrollment is the number of financial aid applications. In Michigan, at the end of the second quarter of the application cycle (March 2023), Michigan students had filed about 6,000 fewer FAFSA forms than they did through the end of the second quarter in 2022. Nationally, the US Department of Education had received about 196,600 more applications for financial aid by the end of Q2 in 2023 than it did during the same period in 2022. That’s a small-but-mighty 2.2% increase.

So, signs are pointing to a generally more positive outcome for Fall 2023 enrollment. If that pattern holds up, it may represent a genuine opportunity for institutions to take stock of their next steps.

The “next steps” for a college – and particularly a community college – include developing and marketing new academic programs. Those programs must compete with the job market, so if the market is good for employees, a focus on short-term certificates and minimalist training programs won’t draw many students. Instead, new programs should focus on maximizing wages for graduates.

Increasing enrollment signals opportunity to cut costs

It’s also a good time to reduce – not increase – expenses. Decreasing expenses doesn’t mean cutting instruction. The instructional budget is usually the ‘go-to’ stop for budget cuts. (West Virginia University recently announced that it was cutting dozens of degree programs and eliminating faculty in virtually all University departments.

Cutting expenses may mean getting creative when identifying opportunities to reduce costs. Reducing utility costs; performing maintenance on time; and controlling other expenses carefully can all improve the bottom line. Institutions also need to consider personnel costs carefully. “Do we really need 12 vice presidents?”

It’s also a great time to put the building plans away. Higher education institutions need to learn how to maximize matching funds, secure private donors, and wait until interest rates are favorable before putting shovels in the ground. They also need to commit to re-using or rehabbing the spaces they already have, particularly when they’re well below their capacity. This reduces their own costs, which in turn, reduces attendance costs for students. It ultimately makes attending college more affordable, which is what gets students in the door.

Photo Credit: Till Krech , via Flickr