Preliminary enrollment numbers are down slightly compared to this time last year, said Stu Harvey, planning and research executive director.
But lower numbers aren’t necessarily bad, Harvey said.
“There’s a link between the economy and college enrollment, especially at community colleges,” he said. “When the economy trends downwards, enrollment goes up, and vice-versa.”
And the difference is very slight. According to the preliminary report, there are 12,915 individual students taking classes at OCCC, only 241 fewer than spring of 2011.
But the drop is not unexpected, Harvey said.
“This is happening at community colleges all over,” he said. “Not only that, but on average, in a 10-year period, three of those years will show enrollment declines.”
Harvey said the slight drop might actually help ease the pressure on the college’s capacity to serve students.
“When we talk about capacity, it’s not just a fixed number,” Harvey said. “Capacity takes into account things like seating, distribution of class times, finding qualified adjuncts and online versus on campus.”
Online classes are among the fastest-growing services the college offers, Harvey said, with an estimated 30 percent of all students taking an online course.
Twelve percent of those taking online courses are enrolled in online only.
Harvey said while teaching online alleviates one problem, others still exist.
For instance, he said, OCCC still has to find quailified teachers and times slots that work for those teachers, Harvey said.
He said many adjunct professors have full-time jobs outside of teaching, either at another college or in their field.
“So while students may prefer morning and daytime classes, there are only so many classes we can fit there, and only so many adjuncts who can fill that time slot.”
While the enrollment numbers are currently consistent with the economy, Harvey said, he is also waiting to see if new financial aid regulations will have any impact on those numbers.
“It could change it, but we won’t know for sure what impact, if any, it will have on retention,” he said. “We’re still analyzing the numbers and we’ll know more after the first drop date passes.”
Harvey said his department should have a more in-depth breakdown of enrollment numbers sometime in February.
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