Enrollment falling at community colleges

Grand Rapids Community College. (Sept. 4, 2014)

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) —  Several four-year Michigan universities have seen slow and steady enrollment increases, while community colleges have seen a steady decline in recent years.

Experts say the two are likely not connected.

Grand Valley State University enrollment reached 25,094 for the fall 2014 semester.  That’s an increase of more than 600 students from the fall of 2013 when enrollment was 24,477.

The slow and steady enrollment appears to be consistent across several Michigan universities.

Michigan State University saw an increase of about 400 students from the previous year.  The University of Michigan told 24 Hour News 8 they don’t provide fall enrollment numbers until October, but enrollment from 2012 to 2013 was up by about 300 students.

“Here at Grand Valley, and a lot of the other universities across Michigan, we’ve seen very flat growth,” said chair of the Grand Valley State University economics department Paul Isely. “Where you might be growing a little bit, you might shrink a little bit, but it’s very flat growth and that’s at most of the four year institutions.”

Grand Valley State University (Sept. 4, 2014)
(Grand Valley State University (Sept. 4, 2014)

Isely attributed the consistency in enrollment to Michigan schools that are doing a good job of drawing students from other areas, students who may look at Michigan schools as a bargain.

He said in his experience, students and their parents are now looking for different things than they did a decade ago, like the value of the education for the cost and job placement after graduation.

He said Michigan high school enrollment is declining, so the numbers may change in the next five to 10 years.

“I can’t tell can tell you for any particular school, but I can tell you the traditional-aged population of students is going to be smaller and there are going to be fewer students across all universities in the traditionally aged population,” Isely said.

Community colleges are already facing enrollment shortfalls, and the economy is likely a big reason for it.

“We anticipated a decline,” said Tina Hoxie, Grand Rapids Community College assistant provost and dean for student affairs. “We’ve had record years for almost ten years where we’ve had record enrollment at the community college.  Our enrollment can be very tied to the economy.”

Isely told 24 Hour News 8 through the last three recessions, the trend has been that when the economy goes down, community college enrollment goes up.

GRCC had nearly 18,000 students enrolled in 2010 and now that the economy is doing better, the number is closer to 16,000, many of whom are part-time. While a part-time student doesn’t affect enrollment numbers, it does affect the college’s bottom line.

“A large percentage of our student work, and when you’re working and you have a secure job you may not be taking as many credits as you would have taken before if you weren’t working,” Hoxie said.

Hoxie said that during the recession, job-retraining programs, some funded by the federal and state governments, contributed to the rise in enrollment.

“The cyclical effect for four-year universities is smaller than the cyclical effect you see in two-year universities,” Isely said.

GRCC is not the only community college that has seen a decline in recent years.

According to numbers from the Michigan Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers, since 2010, Muskegon Community College has seen an 11 percent drop in enrollment since 2010 and Kalamazoo Valley Community College enrollment is down nearly 30 percent.

“These community colleges had very high population numbers two or three years ago as people were re-training from the recession, so we’re seeing decreases from very historically high numbers that nobody thought would be sustainable,” Isely said.



On the web:

Michigan community college weekly enrollment report

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