Community College Enrollment Drops in Virginia, Maryland

Student enrollment at community colleges in Maryland and Virginia is dropping, following a national trend experts believe is related to the economy. The National Student Clearinghouse Research Center reported that nationwide community college enrollment has fallen ~3%.

Nick Anderson of The Washington Post writes that these numbers present a challenge for the country’s community college leaders. While community colleges provide a low price education for older and returning students, they simply are not enrolling at an encouraging pace. In 2008, colleges were so busy that some students were unable to get into needed classes — a typical pattern since people would enroll in college to seek new credentials in the hopes of finding another job. As the economy improves, the need lessens.

 “The truth of the matter is that during the recession, we were the economic recovery plan for a lot of Virginia families,” said Jeffrey Kraus, assistant vice chancellor for public relations for the Virginia Community College System.

According to data from the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia, there were 190,528 students enrolled in the 24 public colleges for Fall 2013. This represents a 2% drop from 2012 and a 3% drop from 2011.

Maryland’s declines are even higher. The Maryland Higher Education Commission shows that in fall 2013 there were 139,198 students enrolled in 16 community colleges, down 4% from 2012 and 6% from 2010.

Montgomery College, the largest community college in Maryland, reported a 5% enrollment drop. The Colleges president DeRionne P.Pollard says the governing board is discussing what the college can do to generate enough income to support its academic programs. Their goal is to keep dropouts to a minimum.

Maryland’s largest enrollment drop was 24% at Baltimore City Community College. The largest gain-7%- was at Howard Community College.

Virginia’s largest decline was 30% at Southwest Virginia Community College. The largest growth — 6% — was at Northern Virginia Community CollegeThe president of NVCC, Robert G. Templin Jr. said the school:

 “Has made a concerted effort over the last eight or nine years” to reach out to students who might be the first in their families to go to college. Many are from minority, immigrant or low-income families in Fairfax, Prince William, Loudoun and Arlington counties. “We help them navigate the higher education landscape, which is pretty difficult if no one in your family has ever gone,”

Spokesman for the state system says that because of the statewide enrollment drop two year colleges must beef up their marketing efforts by letting people know that certificates or two year degrees in certain fields can pave the way to a well paying job.

 “We need to go out and be talking to people who otherwise are not hearing the message of higher education,” Kraus said. “Part of it is breaking through that ‘bachelor’s or bust’ mentality that a lot of folks have.”