BENTONVILLE – NorthWest Arkansas Community College enrolled more than 8,400 students this semester, falling short of its 1% goal to increase last year’s record numbers. The gap means less revenue and more cost-cutting measures will be necessary for the 2012-2013 school year, according to school officials.
NWACC had an unofficial count of 8,418 students enrolled on Sept. 4, the 11th day of classes for the semester. That figure is down 230 students or 2.66% from the count in the fall of 2011. The official count provided to the state Department of Higher Education in 2011 was 8,528 and does not include students who may be auditing a class or who are enrolled in “late start” classes that begin after the start of the traditional 16-week term.
The number of credit hours students are taking this fall is 77,745, down 2.89% from a year ago.
NWACC’s enrollment remains the second largest of any two-year college in Arkansas. Pulaski Tech has the highest enrollment.
Economists say as the new jobs are being added in this region, it’s not a total surprise to see community college enrollment dip as perhaps more non-traditional students are able to find steady work.
Dr. Todd Kitchen, vice president of learner support services, said officials have been monitoring enrollment throughout the summer and knew that the figure for 2012 would be close to that of 2011 or down slightly. It’s difficult to predict the numbers precisely because of all of the variables in play, he said. For example, changes were made recently in the federal Pell Grant program, which provides need-based grants to low-income undergraduate students and certain post-baccalaureate students.
The maximum number of semesters a student can receive the grant was reduced from 16 semesters to 12 semesters. There were 80 students enrolled in NWACC summer classes who were affected by the change and did not return for the fall semester.
Some NWACC statistics are on the rise. The number of area high school students enrolled concurrently at NWACC while still attending high school rose from 734 in fall 2011 to 764 this year, according to Dr. Diana Johnson, NWACC’s executive director of high school relations. Concurrent enrollment, or “dual enrollment,” allows students to earn college credit while completing their high school requirements on campus or through NWACC’s Early College Experience Program.
Also, NWACC had a record number of graduates in May – more than 1,100.
“We’re excited about that level of learner success, and it speaks volumes about the community college helping meet the educational needs of our region,” Kitchen said. “Still, that graduation figure is roughly 400 students less than the entire class of entering freshmen in fall 2011 when we enrolled 1,504. While we are graduating record numbers, our pool of potential students is not as large as in years past. I think with this fall’s enrollment numbers, all of those factors are coming into play.”
Dr. Becky Paneitz, NWACC president, said: “Every student is important to us, and we remain focused on helping them to succeed with their academic and professional goals.”
Roughly 50% of the college’s revenue comes from tuition and fees. The lower enrollment figures mean that the college will be looking carefully at the 2013 fiscal budget, according to Paneitz.
“Obviously, we are disappointed that the total number of student semester credit hours are below our projections, but it is a reality we must address head on,” Paneitz said. “Some tough decisions will have to be made, but we want to make certain that our decisions do not impact our students and their opportunities for educational success.”
Paneitz said administrators will look at potential cost savings carefully. A variety of actions will be considered, such as delaying the filling of full-time positions already budgeted, but currently vacant; looking at further cuts in travel and professional development; delaying for a period of 90 to 120 days the filling of part-time, extra help positions already budgeted; delaying some scheduled maintenance; and considering a four-day work schedule for the summer of 2013.
Paneitz said she and other college officials also will continue to try to expand the revenue base for the college through private philanthropy.
“It’s a reality for all public higher education institutions that the funding from the state does not meet all of a college’s needs, and private donations become that much more important in providing a quality and affordable education to our students,” she said. “We have set a specific goal of increasing the scholarship endowment by $500,000 to allow those who need a little extra help in making their dream of attending college a reality.”
Alex Vasquez, chairman of the NWACC Board of Trustees, said: “While we are disappointed that more students are not able to take advantage of the college’s offerings, we did anticipate that enrollment numbers would be a challenge in light of the economy and tough times that many are experiencing.”
He said the board and the college administration have planned conservatively to deal with the impact this will have and will be implementing several cost-cutting measures.