Age demographics and economic recovery have combined to move enrollments in the community colleges to pre-2008 boom years and sometimes below. Here in Missouri the overall decline in community college enrollment from last fall has been 3.5 percent, or roughly 3,600 students. Individual institutions have seen drops in headcount enrollment ranging from 1.3% to 10%. Our own decline fall to fall was in the lower range at 3.2%, a smaller drop than we had budgeted and planned for.
Such enrollment declines are neither surprising nor unmanageable if one pays attention and looks ahead at demographic and economic trends. We have been fortunate to have been paying attention and setting our budget and staffing levels appropriately. We also know that in the ebb and flow of enrollment trends we are likely to begin to see a reversal in enrollment fortunes based on near term age and population demographic projections in our recruitment areas.
In the meantime we have positioned ourselves well through our long range planning efforts over the past year to maximize our enrollment potential in any demographic ‘market’ that our environment can throw at us. This work, ongoing this fall, will produce action plans which streamline and improve our enrollment management operations, increase student success and persistence, and continue to ensure the relevance of our academic offerings. As an institution that has never had the need to actively recruit students, we have begun to adjust quickly to an environment within which our growth is not automatic by our very location in a booming population center.
At the same time, we have managed in the last year to open a beautiful new campus that allows us to expand our enrollment capacity in the very high demand health occupations. The recently announced Pacific Command initiative would increase our enrollment by 50% or more as we become the provider of education to those on military installments throughout the Pacific Command. Much discussion of this potential initiative will occur in the coming weeks and months. Our current campus housing feasibility study will help us to determine if this is the right time in the life of the college to become a residential campus.
In short, we are not standing still and wringing our hands about the ‘crisis’ of declining enrollments. We are strategic in our approach to our environment and becoming moreso every day. We are creative and courageous in our problem-solving. I have every faith that as other institutions may struggle to adapt to a changing environment we will continue to steer the right path without fanfare or trauma. And speaking of fanfare, as we prepare to receive our second regional award recognition for the creation of a new health occupations campus barely open now for two months – and as we celebrate our designation as a Military Friendly college in recognition of our recent enhancements to services to our veteran students, I remind us all that these were just good ideas made real by the work of good people with students in mind. It is those students whom we celebrate with these accomplishments.