CGCC ponders causes of enrollment decline

Hood River’s growth contributes to The Dalles’ decreased numbers

December 21, 2005

Several factors are being cited by Columbia Gorge Community College officials in connection with a 1.7 percent decline in fulltime student enrollment over the previous year.

Karen Carter, dean of student services, advised the college’s fulltime equivalent (FTE) enrollment was 961.77 for the 2004-05 year. Total FTE was 978.66 in 2003-04, which was also down from the college’s peak FTE of 1,054.53 in 2002-03. Enrollment had risen steadily up to that point, from 677.18 in 1994-95, when the college moved to its central campus in The Dalles.

“I am always concerned about a drop in enrollment, but there are some factors that lead me to be optimistic that this is a short-term trend,” Carter said.

Various issues influence enrollment. The 2002-03 surge reflected a large influx of displaced workers following the shutdown of the aluminum industry in The Dalles. That was followed by declining state revenues, which forced the college to limit the number of courses offered.

More recently, according to Carter, “the cost of attendance has been growing faster than the availability of financial aid resources.”

But she said there’s good news on this front.

“This past legislative system changes were enacted in the Oregon Opportunity Grant, which should allow these funds to reach more students.” That should help more students afford community college, Carter believes.

Carter notes that Oregon’s community college system witnessed an overall FTE decline of 1.3 percent in 2004-05, very close to Columbia Gorge Community College’s drop of 1.7 percent.

Another contributing factor, she continued, was a legislative move to reduce its reimbursement for adult continuing education courses; the college offered fewer of these courses as a result, which also hurt FTE.

Finally, the college has seen a significant increase in FTE in Hood River, following last year’s opening of a college center in that city. (The college will start construction next year of a larger, permanent campus in Hood River.)

While that’s been good for Hood River enrollment, Carter suggests it has reduced some enrollment at The Dalles campus, as fewer students travel here from Hood River.

Total Wasco County FTE was 763.39, down from 826.87 the previous year, while total Hood River County FTE was 198.55, an increase from 151.79 the previous year. (The year before that it was 219.16, but this relatively high figure reflects students attending classes in The Dalles prior to the college center opening in Hood River. FTE is tracked according to class locations, rather than students’ county of residence.)

“I expect that as information about Columbia Gorge Community College and its programs and classes there becomes more widespread, we will see this demand increase,” Carter said.

In the meantime, the college is taking other measures to increase enrollment, Carter said.

“First of all, we have been increasing our partnership with area high schools,” she said. “We have academic advisers at Hood River Valley High School twice a month to meet with students regarding opportunities, both academically and financially, for their freshman year after graduation. We will begin this same experience at The Dalles Wahtonka High School in January.”

The college has also launched its “Career Pathways” program, which is designed to bolster job skills over the short term, followed by continuing training for workplace advancement.

In addition, Carter said, the college’s “Degree Partnership Programs” allow students to be enrolled both locally and at another Oregon college or university to meet specific degree requirements.

“Admissions and financial aid are handled jointly, making it an easy process for students to take advantage of opportunities at more than one school,” Carter said. The local college has degree partnership agreements with Oregon State University, Portland State University, Oregon Institute of Technology and Concordia University, and is working on comparable agreements with Marylhurst, Linfield and Pacific universities.

On-line instruction is another avenue the college is embracing, Carter said; recently, this has been augmented by the ability to register for classes on-line, one of many features established through the college’s adoption of a new registration and accounting system developed by Rogue Community College.

On-line classes allow greater flexibility for students with families and jobs, Carter notes. “By next year, we will offer a complete Associate of Arts Oregon Transfer degree on-line,” she said.

Other initiatives include outreach to the Latino population and workforce training, she added.

“We are trying to meet the needs of students within our resources of both funding and space, and trying to be responsive to their educational needs and expectations,” Carter said.

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