Community colleges see decline in enrollment

Community college officials cite the continued weak economy and changing demographics for a decline

Community college officials cite the continued weak economy and changing demographics for a decline in enrollment this fall.

The Great Recession boosted the numbers of students at colleges as the unemployed sought to further their education or learn new job skills. However, students may be scaling back their college plans — not enrolling full time because they cannot afford the expense or because they must work to support themselves.

Enrollment at Fulton-Montgomery Community College is down about 3 percent, according to President Dustin Swanger.

“I think more people are working part-time jobs. In some cases, it could be that they’re not in a hurry to finish up,” he said.

Enrollment at FMCC has grown tremendously in the last five years — a total of 34 percent since 2006, according to Swanger. But the number of full-time equivalent students has dropped from 2,260 in 2010 to 2,016 this year, which he said is an indication that students are taking fewer credits.

The most popular program is the two-year liberal arts general studies program, according to Swanger. Other high-enrollment programs are business, criminal justice, education and nursing.

FMCC is trying different ways to attract students, including a “late start semester” beginning Oct. 11, in which courses will be taught in 10 weeks instead of 15.

Hudson Valley Community College’s enrollment is down 1.5 percent to about 13,700 students, according to Dennis Kennedy, director of communications and marketing. College officials are not sure of the reasons, but Kennedy blamed the weak job market.

“If people don’t see the value in a college degree that would lead them directly to a job, they’re not making the investment,” he said.

Kennedy said he still feels that the college is one of the best deals around — at only $3,700 a year.

HVCC has also seen rapid growth in the recent past — 48 percent in 10 years.

Another factor is changing demographics, Kennedy said, as high school enrollment around the region is shrinking following a record number of graduates a couple years ago.

SUNY Adirondack’s enrollment is also down this year — about 1.5 percent, from 4,137 to 4,077, according to Mark Parfitt, director of marketing.

Parfitt said it would have been hard for the college to top 2010, which was a record year for enrollment. “It was the first time we were ever at 4,000 students,” he said.

Officials there have noticed that the college is gaining transfer students but not retaining existing students. He suggested the economy was to blame.

“Even though we’re the cheapest game in town, a lot of people still struggle to afford college, and we’re trying to find ways to address that,” he said.

Schenectady County Community College may be bucking the trend, as its total head count is up 4.1 percent. However, full-time enrollment has dropped 1.3 percent, from 2,753 students last fall to 2,718 in 2011. Part-time students increased from 1,680 students to 1,896, meanwhile.

President Quintin Bullock said perhaps the enrollment has peaked. “An increased number of students are becoming part time and taking less than a full-time load.”

He hoped that there would be an uptick in enrollment in the spring semester.

Bullock said he was especially encouraged by enrollment at the college’s Center City location downtown. The 50 initial sections filled up and 11 additional classes were offered.

This is all part of the college’s strategy to offer classes during nontraditional days and times. The college just received state approval to have a weekend class in chemical dependency counseling. The weekend program would provide ongoing training for people who counsel others on substance abuse and are required to have a certificate.

The college has also made over its website and last month held “Midnight Madness” from 6 p.m. to midnight to encourage people to stop by the college, register, climb a rock wall and watch movie clips. SCCC considers the event a success. “One person even came in at 11 p.m.,” Bullock said.

Other colleges are finding success with off-site locations.

Despite the overall decline in enrollment, SUNY Adirondack has seen a big increase in students at its Wilton Center campus, according to Parfitt. He attributed the increase to the programs offered at that location, including a pre-nursing program that allows students to complete prerequisite courses for a two-year nursing degree.

Other popular programs are the liberal arts program, business classes and a Tech Valley track, with science, technology, math and engineering classes. The college will be expanding into a new facility it is leasing at the site.

HVCC is also growing technology classes at its TEC-SMART facility in Malta in response to development of a GlobalFoundries chip manufacturing plant and the GE battery plant in Schenectady.

“We’re developing programs to meet the demands of high-tech industries and also funnel students into four-year colleges for baccalaureate and advanced degrees in this area,” he said.

Categories: Business, Schenectady County

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