Illustration by Mark Beauchamp.
The American Association of Community Colleges just completed a preliminary survey of Fall 2010 enrollment. Overall, enrollment in US community colleges is up for the fourth year in a row. However, the percentage increase between Fall ’09 and Fall ’10 is looking lower than the huge surge in 2007 and 2008.
Total enrollment is estimated to have gone up 3.2%, an increase of around 250,000. The authors of the report note that “(t)his is a smaller increase than has been seen in recent years”, but it should be noted that there are few trends at play.
This graph, which was taken from the AACC report, indicates that enrollment has increased by about 2 million over the last 10 years, making a 250,000 student increase above the 10-year average. However, in California alone 140,000 students were turned away as a result of budget-induced enrollment caps, which means that enrollment growth will likely be significantly dampened as cost-cutting efforts take effect for the foreseeable future.
This certainly puts colleges in a difficult position. Budgets are forcing institutions that were once totally “open access” to become a lot more exclusive and competitive for space.
In addition, it is going to cause many colleges to totally rethink their business process and program offerings. If they can only accept so many students and have very constrained budgets they are going to have to drop programs, increase fees, find alternative sources of revenue and start to make sure their programs are offering a much higher level of value for a smaller number of students. In many ways current economic realities are forcing our community colleges to start acting – well – a lot more like private colleges.
For more on colleges seeking autonomy, see this article in The New York Times.