Community College Enrollment Surging

By Staff
July 23, 2009

President Obama's recent proposal to invest $12 billion towards producing 5 million more community college graduates by 2020 could not have come at a better time: Community college enrollment is continuing to increase, fueled by high school graduates in search of inexpensive degrees and career-changers looking to be retrained.

While higher education enrollment typically goes up as unemployment rises, the News Tribune in Washington state reports that two-year institutions are expecting unprecedented demand this fall. Dale Stowell, spokesman for Tacoma Community College, predicted that by the time students receive printed class schedules for the upcoming semester, the majority of courses may very likely be full.

"The severity of this downturn is causing an even bigger reaction," noted Charlie Earl, executive director for Washington's State Board for Community and Technical Colleges, who was quoted in the News Tribune.

The trend is being felt throughout the country. "We are already starting to see twice as many applicants," said Sylvia Camacho, Director of Career Services and Cooperative Education at New York's Suffolk County Community College. In an exclusive interview with, Camacho noted that their new students are a combination of high school graduates and workers seeking retraining.

Similarly, the Associated Press [from an article originally located at] reports that enrollment at Colorado's Front Range Community College is up about 26 percent over last year. And a recent op-ed piece in The New York Times notes that community college enrollment "has been increasing at more than three times the rate of four-year colleges. This year, in the middle of the recession, many schools are seeing enrollment surges of 10 percent to 15 percent."

In Washington state, public community and technical colleges enrolled the full-time equivalent of close to 134,000 students last fall--a record in the state. At TCC, course offerings were expanded every quarter this past year except during the summer.

"We've added more than 40 individual classes to the fall schedule," noted Stowell in the News Tribune. "When we can find an adjunct instructor and room to put them in, we add another class."

Yet community and technical colleges are facing budget cutbacks, compelling schools to limit courses at a time when so many are clamoring to be enrolled. In Washington state, state funding for two-year institutions went down 8.3 percent, forcing colleges to raise tuition, reduce staff and increase class sizes.

"The colleges are having to limit some courses offered," said Earl. "But at the same time they are adding sections in the most high demand courses. They're working really hard to serve as many students as possible. During times of downturn is when people need us most."

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