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COVID-19 leads to enrollment declines at community colleges

Just before COVID-19 hit, the North Carolina community college system was celebrating the fact that colleges across the state were seeing enrollment growth after a steady decline since 2010. Now, thanks to the pandemic, a preliminary headcount for the fall shows that enrollment at community colleges across the state could be down again.

During a presentation to a State Board of Community Colleges subcommittee, Bill Schneider, associate vice president for research and performance management at the community college system office, chronicled where community colleges were as of Nov. 12.

According to the presentation, enrollment is down since last year across almost every size of community college. The numbers below reflect curriculum students, who are students working toward transferring to a four-year college or earning an associate degree. FTE stands for Full-Time Equivalent, which defines a full-time student based on a set number of credit hours. Since many community college students are part-time, FTE allows schools to count multiple part-time students as one full-time student based on the number of credits taken.

Courtesy of State Community College System

Enrollment is down from last year in almost every age group.

Courtesy of State Community College System

Enrollment is down from last year for almost every race/ethnicity, though the percent decline in North Carolina is smaller than it is nationally.

Courtesy of State Community College System

The community colleges with the largest share of students of color also experienced the largest decline in enrollments.

Enrollment is down from last year for both men and women, though far more for men than women. The percent decline in North Carolina is smaller than it is nationally right now.

Courtesy of State Community College System

Schneider pointed out during the presentation that the largest decreases were seen at smaller colleges, colleges with high minority populations, and colleges in Tier 1 counties, which are the most economically distressed in the state. Enrollment at colleges in all Tiers declined, however.

He also pointed out that November’s numbers reflect the first time since 2012 that the system has seen a decrease in under-18 enrollment. It is also the first decrease since 2012 in Hispanic male enrollment. 

He said the large decrease in male enrollment in the system was “somewhat consistent with historical trends.” He also said that Black male students had the largest decrease among subgroups.

In workforce continuing education, he said white males and students between ages 24 and 44 had increases in enrollment while Black male enrollment had declined. Female enrollment increased in basic skills programs while enrollment of Black and Hispanic males declined.

This data was just preliminary. Official numbers won’t come out until January.

See the full presentation below.

Travel approval policies under question

In October, WECT news wrote about discovering a policy of “blanket travel approval” for the college president and trustees at Cape Fear Community College, located in Wilmington. A State Board of Community Colleges subcommittee discussed the issue this week.

David Heatherly, president of Coastal Carolina Community College in Jacksonville, attended the subcommittee meeting and said that the policy at Cape Fear was unusual.

“It is at least my belief that what you’re seeing in this particular instance … is an exception and not what you would normally see,” he said.

An update to State Board members is expected in December, and community college system staff are planning to have an official discussion about the issue with Cape Fear Community College between now and then.

Teacher preperation articulation agreement

The State Board of Community Colleges voted to approve an articulation agreement between educator preparation programs at the state’s Independent Colleges and Universities and the Associate in Arts and Science Teacher Preparation programs at the state community college system. The articulation agreement makes it easier for students to transfer credits between the educator preparation programs at the state’s community colleges and independent colleges and universities.

See the articulation agreement below.

Legislative updates and a new president at McDowell Tech

The State Board of Community Colleges approved Brian S. Merritt as the next president of McDowell Technical Community College. Merritt is currently the vice president of learning and workforce development and chief academic officer at Central Carolina Community College. In May, Merritt was selected for the 2020-21 class of the Aspen Rising Presidents Fellowship.

The Board also got a preliminary glimpse at what budget priorities they will be considering ahead of the spring long session of the General Assembly.

Elizabeth Grovenstein, chief financial officer for the community college system, said that the North Carolina Association of Community College Presidents met Wednesday to take up budget priorities. Following that meeting, Grovenstein is coming up with an agenda item for the State Board to consider in the near future. The Board’s next scheduled meeting is January.

She mentioned a few priorities, including pay raises for community college personnel, funding to stabilize community college budgets amidst COVID-19, and recurring and non-recurring funds for modern workforce IT.

“Of course this pandemic has certainly impacted colleges across the state, and we know that colleges are needed more than ever to help our state come out of this,” she said.

Alex Granados

Alex Granados was the senior reporter for EducationNC from December 2014-March 2023.