Policy Brief Discusses Slight Enrollment Decline, 17 Percent Increase in Pell Grant Need

WASHINGTON, Dec. 20, 2011 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ — Record-breaking enrollment increases have been the norm at community colleges for the last four years, but now, it appears that enrollment is leveling off. According to a new policy brief released today by the American Association of Community Colleges (AACC), there has been an enrollment decrease of almost one percent since fall 2010.

Despite this slight decline, community college enrollments remain up 21.8 percent since fall 2007. The change in community college enrollments this fall resulted in part from a drop in full-time students and a slight increase in students enrolled part-time.

Historically, community college enrollments have spiked during times of economic hardship. Fueled by the economic downturn, the double-digit growth coincided with state and local funding cuts, placing strains on campuses throughout the country.

“When rising enrollments maxed out their classrooms and swamped their registration systems, community colleges had to be creative and find solutions,” said Dr. Walter G. Bumphus, president and CEO of AACC.

But because demand remains high, it’s unlikely the extraordinary measures colleges have employed over the last four years to accommodate their swelling student populations will be going away any time soon. Midnight course scheduling, satellite classrooms and cramped laboratory sections may be here to stay. In some instances, colleges have reduced course sections because of less funding, decreasing the access central to the community college mission.

“The rapid enrollment rates we saw over the last four years may have slowed, but the community college system continues to operate at a higher tempo today than it did four years ago,” said Bumphus. “Now is the time for colleges to step back and re-evaluate their systems, seek innovative solutions and plan for the future.”

At the same time, the number of community college students receiving Pell Grants increased by 17 percent during the first quarter of the program, from just over 1.7 million students in the first quarter of 2010 to approximately two million students in 2011.

The increase in Pell Grant recipients could be a sign that the slight drop in enrollments may not be due to students being in better financial circumstances. Overall, community colleges serve a larger proportion of all Pell Grant recipients and receive 34% of funds available through the program.

The policy brief is based on a collaborative analysis by AACC and the National Student Clearinghouse. The brief is based on a four-year matched set of institutions from fall 2008 to 2011. The full policy brief is available on AACC’s website at www.aacc.nche.edu.

Headquartered in Washington, D.C., the American Association of Community Colleges is the leading advocacy organization representing close to 1,200 community, junior and technical colleges nationwide. Community colleges are the largest sector of higher education, enrolling more than 13 million credit and non-credit students each year.

SOURCE : American Association of Community Colleges


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