Montgomery County

F-MCC making upgrades as enrollment starts to dip

Fulton-Montgomery Community College is seeing a nearly fivefold increase in early admission applicat

Fulton-Montgomery Community College is seeing a nearly fivefold increase in early admission applications from high school students for next academic year.

But college officials expect to start seeing enrollment declines as soon as next year.

College President Dustin Swanger said the increase in early-admission requests is due, in part, to worries by high school students and their parents that some school districts were going to eliminate their college credit and advance placement courses next year. The college usually receives 65 applications for early admission; it received 300 for next year.

Various boards of education in the area had contemplated eliminating or reducing these courses, which are considered non-mandated curriculum, when they crafted budgets for next year to stay within the state mandated tax cap.

Districts offer the courses as enrichment to college-bound students who might otherwise leave school in their final year, as they have fulfilled their requirements for graduation. Districts also lose state aid when students take advantage of early admission college programs.

In the end, almost all of the districts managed to stay within the cap without having to eliminate the courses. This, in turn, should keep most students who have fulfilled their requirements for graduation within their home districts next year, said Paul Williamsen, superintendent of the Mayfield Central School District.

Mayfield, for example, when crafting its budget, had planned to reduce business electives and advanced placement classes at the high school. Last-minute aid and other financial measures allowed the district to maintain these programs.

“If students have attained the minimum number of graduation requirements by their senior year, why maintain their presence here?” Williamsen asked.

The answer is advanced placement and college credit courses, which keeps them in the district another year.

“The purpose is to have them college- and career-ready by their junior year, and we will not get in their in way if they want to move on, but we want to remain competitive with an enriched program,” he said. Mayfield may still have to cut college credit and AP classes, “should financial conditions not change,” he said.

Swanger said he does not expect all 300 applicants to attend FMCC next year, but he does expect to see an increase above the normal number. The college is expecting a 3 percent decline in enrollment next year.

The decline will be the first in seven years. Over the prior six years, the college has seen its enrollment increase 35 percent to its highest ever this academic year, Swanger said.

In the 2006-2007 academic year, FMCC enrolled 1,702 full-time equivalents, or 2,100 total, compared with 2,180 full-time equivalents, or 2,850 total for 2012-2013. An FTE equates to one full-time student taking 30 credits a year, or some combination of part-time students totalling 30 credits, such as three students taking 10 credits for the year or two students taking 15.

Swanger said the enrollment decline is not a cause for concern but more of a reflection that the nation’s economy is coming out of the recession. “All the community colleges are seeing fewer enrollments than in past, which is typical when you start to pull out of a recession,” he said. “What you find is people don’t go to college because they want to go to work, or they go part time.”

What is a matter of concern, he said, is that the number of students graduating from high school is starting to decline. To deal with this, FMCC is “doing a number of things to strategically manage enrollment,” Swanger said.

The college is doubling its student housing by adding 144 more beds to its current total of 144. It is making its campus facilities more attractive by updating the cafeteria, for example. And it is seeking to change the atmosphere of the campus to make it feel more like a college than an institution.

Further, the college is seeking authority from the state to add new courses in health sciences and health studies. Health sciences is designed to prepare students who want to go into the medical field. Courses would cover the first two years of a bachelor of arts program with a transfer option. Health studies is for paraprofessionals who work in doctor’s offices, hospitals or other health care settings.

“We are trying to be more competitive,” Swanger said.

The college is maintaining its premier programs in electronics, which has a focus on nanotech and uses the state-of-art clean room; in nursing and radiology technology; in criminal justice; and in business.

In addition, the college has tried to keep tuition affordable. It has the fourth-lowest tuition among 30 community colleges in the state, at $3,444 per year, Swanger said.

Fulton and Montgomery counties have not increased their contributions to FMCC in four years. “I have not asked for an increase for last four years because of situation they have been in,” he said.

The state did enhance FTE aid to community colleges by $150 last year, bringing the total to $2,272 per FTE. Finally, the FMCC Board of Trustees increased tuition by $50 last year. “The burden is shifting to students,” Swanger said, adding that community colleges are still a good deal.

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