Community Colleges Face Increased Enrollment And Budget Cutbacks

By Staff
April 6, 2009

Community colleges across the nation are trying to cope with a surge in enrollment at the same time that many states and counties are slashing higher education budgets.

Connecticut's Hartford Business reports that at Gateway Community College, officials were forced to cap enrollments last fall for the first time in the institution's history. Enrollments increased 8.5 percent last year to 6,500 students.

"We had to stop accepting applications because we had no more sections we could offer," explained Dorsey Kendrick, the school's president. "It's not fair to have students come through the testing process if there are no courses for them to take."

The situation is being repeated in community colleges throughout the country as more students search for cheaper higher education options at the same time that laid-off workers head to school for retraining. Meanwhile, the economic climate has forced many states and counties to decrease aid to community colleges.

The community college system in Connecticut took a 5 percent cut this year and expects services cuts of 10.2 and 12 percents in 2010 and 2011 respectively. Among other things, the services include tutoring hours, career assistance and staffing the bookstore.

"The question is how many more students you can add before you get to the point that you're not going to offer the kind of services you need to give," noted Gena Glickman, president of Manchester Community College, which is also deciding which services it may cut and whether enrollments should be capped.

The Chronicle of Higher Education reports that community college leaders traded tips at the American Association of Community Colleges meeting, addressing how to deal with increased enrollment on limited resources.

Among those who offered suggestions was Joe D. Forrester, president of Pennsylvania's Community College of Beaver County, who adopted a process called "compression planning" in which campus employees meet to discuss ideas for raising revenue and containing costs. One idea they proposed was to shift to print-on-demand for all college publications.

"Usually, we have 6,000 to 8,000 catalogs, brochures, or booklets sitting around that can't be used, and it's a waste," noted Forrester.

Sean A. Fanelli, president of Nassau Community College, stressed the importance of communicating with legislators. He noted that community colleges in New York lobbied lawmakers to reject a 10 percent cut proposal, arguing that the schools would not be able to handle the increased enrollment of laid-off workers. As a result, the proposal was dropped.

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