Posted on April 7, 2014

Enrollment rise expected despite dropping rate

As the baby boomer generation enters its retirement phase, the nation’s workforce may see a spike in the need for degree holders, Laramie County Community College’s president said.

Despite dropping enrollment rates across the board as reported in LCCC’s fall 2013 enrollment monitoring data, LCCC President Dr. Joe Schaffer said he is optimistic.

“Wyoming is one of the few states that is going to see a significant increase in high school grads,” Schaffer said.

Research compiled by the Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education (WICHE) predicted a 32.7 percent increase in Wyoming high school graduates during the next 10 years.

Schaffer said historically LCCC has experienced dips in enrollment, but large spikes in high school graduates are rare.
Schaffer explained the research is based off current demographic enrollments. and the rising rates of overpopulation of preschools and elementary schools.

“This is our calm before the storm,” Schaffer said. “This is the time for us to build a good foundation.”

The Wyoming Community College Commission’s (WCCC) enrollment data shows full-time enrollment (FTE) rates are declining across Wyoming. Dr. Jim Rose, executive director of the WCCC, said the commission did not currently have data on future enrollment rate predictions.

“Enrollment is counter-cyclical to the economy,” Rose said. When jobs are scarce, people look to higher education in hopes of developing their employability, Rose explained. In turn, people who are employed feel threatened by the credentials of job seekers and return to college to hone their skills.

Schaffer said dipping enrollment rates are related to the post-recession economy and, in part, to generation-specific attitudes.

The baby boomers, children born in the post-World War II era, valued higher education, Schaffer explained. The generations following the baby boomers grew less and less interested in post-secondary schools, he said. Meanwhile, the baby boomers are reaching retirement age, and their departures are clearing the way for degree holders to fill the gaps, Schaffer said, and
this could rekindle an interest in college-level education.

LCCC should focus more on completion

“Today’s economy requires something past high school,” Schaffer said. In a globalized economy shifting toward a knowledge-based economy, high school graduates aren’t going to cut it anymore, he added.

However, Rose said enrollment isn’t as significant of a focus as it used to be. “Enrollment has nothing to do with how students are performing,” Rose said. “If you can’t get them across the stage in May, you haven’t accomplished a lot.”

Nations around the world emphasize students earning degrees rather than attendance numbers, Schaffer said. Schaffer said LCCC should focus more on completion than enrollment the way colleges in other countries do.

He said about 19 percent of freshmen who enroll at LCCC graduate within three years of enrolling. The college loses one of every two students who enroll in the fall, Schaffer said.

Decreasing the credit-hour requirements of general education is part of a nationwide initiative to streamline the process of earning a degree, Schaffer said. The idea is fewer credit-hours will reinforce student retention and bolster the number of college graduates, he explained.

“We are no longer just considering who comes in the door, but we are looking at who goes out,” Schaffer said.

Rose said government-issued financial backing is the reason so many colleges in the U.S. focus on enrollment. He explained enrollment drives about 40 percent of state funding for Wyoming’s community colleges. The standard budget is based on enrollment statistics that don’t exist anymore, primarily, statistics from the 2004-2005 academic year, Rose added.

“We don’t have a funding model,” Rose said. “We have an allocation model.”

The WCCC reports that during the 2004-2005 academic year the headcount at LCCC was 5,337 students. Even with decreasing enrollment the WCCC data shows LCCC’s 2012-2013 enrollment at 6,190.

Now, focus is shifting from enrollment-based funding to completion-based funding, Rose said. Wyoming is “absolutely going to see more focus on completion” in future appropriation models, Rose said.


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