Enrollment’s up in colleges

Published 7:45 pm Monday, September 20, 2010

Leah Cottingham, left, Tameka Thomas and Jacqueline Thomas review practice tests in a computer lab at Wallace Community College. Statewide, enrollment in community colleges is at record highs. --Laura Fenton photo

Student enrollment at community colleges is at record highs this fall in Selma and across the state.

Already, the state has a 1.28 percent increase for this year atop the unprecedented 12 percent increase in fall 2009.

Wallace Community College’s enrollment increased 6 percent from last year. The school has 1,984 students enrolled currently, but once the second session of classes begins, the school will have an enrollment of more than 2,000 students.

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“In terms of viability in the college, that is one of those indicators,” said James Mitchell, president the community college. “As a president, if I see the enrollment declining, then that tells me I have a problem and I have to figure out why enrollment is declining.”

When Mitchell became president in 2000, enrollment was about 1,000 students, but because the college now offers flexibility of day, night and online classes, the number of students has steadily increased.

Other local colleges have increased enrollment as well.

Selma University has drastically increased from 340 students in spring 2010 to 675 students this fall and Concordia College enrollment increased from 492 in spring 2010 to 651 students this fall.

More students means an increase in revenue, an almost unseen circumstance in this tight-budgeted economic time.

“It helped in turn to give the school better financial stability because more students means you get more finances,” said Alvin Cleveland, president of Selma University.

This inverse relationship between the economy and enrollment in community colleges and universities is nothing new, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. More education is often associated with less unemployment.

“As the economy begins to improve and businesses begin to hire new employees, employers will be able to choose from a much larger pool of highly-skilled applicants,” said Jaynne Gilbert, spokeswoman for the Alabama Community College System.

The state Community College System forecasts a slight dip in enrollment as the economy continues to recover.

“However, the need for highly skilled workers will not change,” said Freida Hill, chancellor of Alabama’s community college system. “It is essential that we maintain a strong workforce for Alabama to emerge from this economic downturn.”

Hill is confident the trend of pursuing higher education will benefit the economy of the state.

“Alabama’s economic recovery rests on the shoulders of the Alabama Community College System,” said Hill. “Our graduates are prepared to meet that demand.”