News

More work means fewer students

By MIKE HALLIDAY

The Mirror

Imagine the state’s economy and community colleges’ enrollment as two people on a teeter totter. As one goes down, the other goes up.

Community colleges are on the downward side of the teeter totter as the state’s economy rebounds from the fall it took in 2000.

Most colleges, especially those in the Puget Sound region, are seeing their numbers decrease as more people head back to work, and fewer students are seeking more education or re-training to make them better prospects as job applicants. Green River Community College, one of two colleges serving the south King County area, is one institution not following the trend.

A report from the state in November 2005 claimed Washington had added 85,000 new jobs in the past year. The Seattle-Bellevue-Everett area saw a 3.6 percent increase in job growth. The Tacoma area had a 2.2 percent gain.

Falling enrollment is something the colleges have been expecting, said Suzy Ames, spokeswoman for the state Board of Community and Technical Colleges. The board has been forecasting enrollment and knew this would eventually happen.

Highline Community College’s overall full-time student enrollment dropped from 6,965 students in the 2002-03 academic year to 6,407 for the 2004-05 year.

Green River went up from 2002-03 to 2003-04 with 6,859 to 6,887. It lost one student from 2003-04 to 2004-05.

Another reason community college enrollment has dropped in most places is because more high school students enrolled in Running Start graduated with both their high school diploma and associates degree, Ames said.

When Running Start –– a popular program high school juniors and seniors can take to earn college credit while in high school –– began, most students took only a few credits at the community college. That has been changing, and a growing number are taking all of their classes at the community college. As a result, fewer need to take their last community college classes after high school to get into a four-year university.

The community colleges have become a “victim of our success,” Ames said.

In fact, Green River’s enrollment is bolstered by Running Start students, according to state data. While enrollment of students seeking re-training or furthering their education has been declining from 2002-03 to 2004-05, the number of Running Start and international students has been growing from 1,142 to 1,470.

Highline’s has also grown, but not as dramatically –– from 798 in 2002-03 to 825 in 2004-05.

Green River’s enrollment of full-time students was up for the fall in 2005 compared to the previous year, when it saw a drop in enrollment, said John Ramsey, a spokesman for the Auburn college.

Why Green River’s enrollment is going up has a long answer. The college made a point of working harder than in the past to retain students. It paid four students to work part-time contact current students and prospective ones about attending the community college.

“I think that’s paid off,” Ramsey said.

Location is another reason, he said.

The institution’s backyard is the Kent School District –– one of the largest in the state. And other nearby districts like Auburn and Enumclaw are growing. As a result, GRCC has a younger population than other community colleges.

As for Highline, Ivan Gorne, vice president for student services, said enrollment dropped for many of the reasons, including fewer people needing retraining or extra education.

There are other factors, he added.

• School districts around HCC’s main campus in Des Moines aren’t growing like the ones that feed GRCC.

• Running Start students are not attending after high school –– a statewide trend Ames, pointed out.

• Those high school students who do come to Highline tend not to stay, but either go to work or leap to a four-year university.

• Still, other students –– Gorne calls them “millennials” –– are different than their predecessors. Many take a few classes at HCC and then leave for a year and come back to take more classes.

“It sounds like it’s getting to be a quadruple whammy,” Gorne said.

But it’s not all bleak.

The percentage of students expected to enroll for the winter quarter –– which starts this month –– is better than the percentage for fall.

Also, the percentage of students enrolling is better than a year ago, Gorne added.

Staff writer Mike Halliday: 925-5565, mhalliday@fedwaymirror

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