Community Colleges Struggle With Record Enrollment

By Yaffa Klugerman
November 12, 2009

Community colleges are grappling with a surge in enrollment, primarily as a result of high school graduates in search of inexpensive higher education and career-changers and job seekers looking to be retrained.

The Charlotte Business Journal in North Carolina reports that Gaston College, which had planned for a 1 to 2 percent increase in enrollment, instead saw a 25 percent jump. Similarly, Central Piedmont Community College was forced to turn away 5,000 students last year due to space constraints and a lack of funding for scholarships. A spokesperson said that enrollment has increased over 35 percent at CPCC since 2006.

The problem is being exacerbated further because North Carolina's funding for community colleges is based on the previous year's enrollment. Moreover, legislators cut funding for community colleges last summer in order to balance the state budget.

The Charlotte Business Journal notes that according to Kennon Briggs, system executive vice president and chief of staff at the North Carolina Community College System, about 15,000 students are enrolled this year without enough funds to support them.

"We really are going to be facing a huge space concern in the near term because of demand," he told the Charlotte Business Journal.

In New York City, community colleges swamped with students have been forced to turn away applicants for the first time. The city's six community colleges, part of the City University of New York, usually accepted applications until a week before classes--but no more.

"Enrollment has been growing steadily, but this was a tidal wave for us this fall," said Gail O. Mellow, president of LaGuardia Community College, who was interviewed by The New York Times. "I've never seen anything like this. We used to pretty much be an open door."

Antonio Perez, president of the Borough of Manhattan Community College, told the Times that closing enrollment on June 22 had been a difficult decision. "It's almost like trying to stop a large ship in the middle of the ocean," he said. "I expect we will be turning away students next semester as well."

Similarly, the Denver Times reports that Colorado's community colleges have been forced to close courses because not enough professors are available to teach them. Nancy McCallin, president of the Colorado Community College system, noted that not enough funding is available to accommodate the many new enrollees.

"This strong growth happened at a time when state funding is plummeting," she explained to the Denver Times. "We really are having difficulty in terms of the financial side of the house."

Michele Haney, president of Red Rocks Community College, told the Denver Times that she is concerned that the lack of funding will force schools to become private, leading to significant tuition increases.

"My biggest fear," she said in the Denver Times, "is that are we at the point where there will be no public access to higher education in the state of Colorado? Will we have people say, 'I can't even afford a community college'?"

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