By Julie Wiessner
Northland Pioneer College Vice President for Learning and Student Services Mark Vest provided information on the fall semester 2013 enrollment changes to the Navajo County Community College District Governing Board last week. The numbers didn’t look good, but Vest said that was not necessarily the case.
Enrollment for fall 2012 totaled 1,743. So far, the fall 2013 number of students enrolled is 1,447, a decline of 296 full-time student equivalents (FTSE).
Vest said, “Although it looks like something catastrophic happened to the numbers, it is actually an optimistic report. But there are several factors that have not yet been figured into the equation.”
He went on to explain what has affected the enrollment numbers thus far.
“There are actually four different categories driving down enrollment. One is that the report only includes classes that were in session when the 45th day, or FTSE, occurred.”
FTSE (pronounced footsie) day notes if students are in class and making adequate progress by the 45th day for state enrollment reporting purposes.
“The Department of Corrections (DOC) classes offered to inmates at the Winslow prison by NPC were moved into the short term count, meaning The Learning Cornerstone (TLC) has been experimenting with two eight-week sessions instead of one 16-week session,” Vest continued. “Students meet twice a week for eight weeks rather than once a week for 16 weeks. They are seeing better student retention and success with the shorter term more often classes.”
“Another reason for a low count,” said Vest, “is there are at least 50 students in short term classes that don’t start until a week after count day.”
Another reason for the low enrollment report is that classes for both the law enforcement program with 35 students and the Blue Ridge High School Dual Enrollment program with 76 students have moved from fall to spring semester.
There were at least 154 Administrative Information Services/Business students in 2012, but only 77 signed up for business classes this year due to an unexpected late retirement of full-time and adjunct faculty, and a major revision of that curriculum had just occurred. Vest noted, “We hope to begin recovering this enrollment in fall 2014 assuming faculty is in place and sections are back on line.”
The biggest reason for the decline, said Vest, “is from changes in Pell Grant funding and declining third party payer capacity. These losses are more difficult to establish causation, but consider the following: half of our regular campus/center students received some form of assistance with costs.
“In fall 2009, we denied 17.5 percent of all Pell applicants. In fall 2013, we denied 27.8 percent of all Pell applicants in a year during which a higher percentage of our regular enrollment is Pell-reliant. During this same time frame (fall 2010 to fall 2013) we have had a 32 percent decline in the number of students receiving financial support from third parties. These third parties are typically state or tribal agencies.”
NPC was required to deny students who had applied for Pell assistance due to the changing requirements of that grant.
Vest concluded his presentation by saying, “We will receive credit for DOC and TLC in the short term count. We will recover much of the law enforcement and dual enrollment in the spring semester. We will recover much of the business count in fall 2014, but we will continue to face enrollment erosion by the declining ability of students and their traditional means of support to pay the cost of education.
“Our biggest long term concern is the new restrictions on Pell Grant funding. The federal government assumes when someone is attending college, they are attending as a full-time student. In our population, most students attend part-time and it has been that way for a very long time. The college is seeking ways to help students pay for college in light of the new Pell restrictions.”
By Julie Wiessner