Central Oregon Community College has increased its projected enrollment decline as the economy continues to improve, a trend that provides would-be students the chance to enter the workforce instead of attend college.
COCC’s enrollment is measured by full-time equivalency, a metric that reflects the number of credits taken as opposed to the number of students enrolled. The college had been projecting an FTE decline of 7 percent for the next school year, representing a decrease of about $1.26 million in revenue from tuition and fees. Now the college is forecasting a 10 percent decline, resulting in a loss of $1.8 million.
Alicia Moore, dean of student and enrollment services, said projections are both “an art and a science,” and that the college bases numbers on what’s happening locally, how other colleges are doing and historical trends.
“A while back, there was a big headline that said an indicator for positive economic development is a decline in community college enrollment,” Moore said. “It hurts to say that, because I believe so strongly in the value of what we do, but when unemployment declines so does our enrollment.”
Beginning in the 2006-2007 school year, FTE nearly doubled as the recession hit, cresting in the 2011-2012 school year. Moore said next year’s expected decline returns COCC to a population in line with what would have been expected had the enrollment explosion never happened.
“It’s as if we never had the major increase and instead experienced stable growth,” Moore said.
Nonetheless, the decline in revenue means the college has to hold back on some spending. Moore said some vacant teaching positions may not be filled, and some adjunct faculty may be given fewer sections.
“We’re looking at areas that are directly impacted by the enrollment,” Moore said. “When we had to ramp up so suddenly, we had to hire a lot of part-time faculty, and those weren’t permanent positions.”
To counteract the impact of a recovering economy, Moore said the college will continue to refine its recruiting, in particular by determining if its out-of-state efforts in the Northwest, Alaska and Colorado are still effective, or whether COCC should target new markets.
“The other piece besides enrollment to be gained is retention, and we have task forces studying student success,” Moore said.
One group is examining an automatic degree program, which would grant students any degree or certificate they qualify for upon completing the program’s coursework. Another program would target new students, helping them to understand the skills needed for college success. Another consideration is a program that contacts former students who are close to completing their degree with the goal of encouraging them to return.
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