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Northwest College enrollment down slightly from 2016

Northwest College student Adam Beck, of Lovell, takes a break after Wednesday classes to unwind on campus with a little music. Beck, a student enrolled in the business and drafting programs, is one of 1,677 students currently enrolled at NWC for the fall semester. Northwest College student Adam Beck, of Lovell, takes a break after Wednesday classes to unwind on campus with a little music. Beck, a student enrolled in the business and drafting programs, is one of 1,677 students currently enrolled at NWC for the fall semester. Tribune photo by Don Cogger

Numbers have historically been tied to state’s unemployment rate

Preliminary data indicates that enrollment at Northwest College may have dipped a little from last year.

Current fall enrollment at NWC sits at 1,677 students, 1,535 of whom are considered full time equivalent (FTE) for the 2017 fall semester. That’s down 2 percent from a year ago.

“We’re down slightly, but that number creeps up throughout the semester with mid-semester classes, so we won’t have final numbers for a while,” said NWC President Stefani Hicswa.

That data was included in a Longitudinal Enrollment Report — comparing enrollment numbers at NWC over a 10-20 year period — at Northwest College Board of Trustees’ monthly meeting Monday. Presented by NWC Institutional Researcher Lisa Smith, the report is given annually to examine enrollment trends for future considerations.

Historical fall enrollment numbers show NWC’s enrollment continues to be closely related to Wyoming’s unemployment rates: As unemployment rates increase, so does
enrollment, as students attend college when jobs are at a premium. For example, NWC’s enrollment numbers hit a 20-year high of almost 2,200 students per fall semester for the recession years of 2009 and 2010.

Prior to that enrollment peak, the number of full time equivalent students followed the overall number of students closely, Smith said in her report.

“Since then, FTE has been notably lower than the headcount. This is due to the increasing percentage of students taking part-time loads,” Smith wrote.

Fall enrollment numbers have stayed fairly steady with head counts of 1,670-1,750 the last four years — a trend Hicswa doesn’t expect to change.

“Gerry [Giraud, vice president for academic affairs] did some analysis three years ago, and found the only two correlations for predictors of enrollment was unemployment and high school enrollment,” Hicswa said. “Unemployment is really low, I think we’re under 4 percent right now. That stands to reason that our numbers would be low.”

Meanwhile, “as we look at projecting high school enrollment, it’s going to go up, but not substantially,” Hicswa said, adding, “unless something really different happens with unemployment, we don’t expect much enrollment growth.”

According to Smith’s report, over the past three years, almost a third of Big Horn Basin area graduates have enrolled at NWC within a year of graduation. Powell and Lovell have the highest percentage of graduates who move on to NWC (44-48 percent), while Ten Sleep and Worland have the lowest percentage, at 7-11 percent.

“The largest senior classes are from Cody, Powell and Worland, so percentages of enrollment from these schools have a greater effect on the overall service area percentage of enrollment than the smaller schools,” Smith said.

Hicswa said she’d like to focus on retention rates as a way of possibly increasing enrollment numbers. Historically, the full time fall-to-fall retention rate at NWC has been in the upper 50 to low 60 percent range, according to Smith’s report. The national retention rate tends to hover around 30 percent.

“If we can bump up this 60 percent — which is really high — up into the 70s, the enrollment number will increase,” Hicswa said. “That could be something that could help drive our enrollment.”

With further budget cuts looming as the next legislative session nears and an investigation of water damage at Cody Hall continuing to bleed money from other projects, efforts to come up with new ideas to increase enrollment tend to downshift.

“This Cody Hall thing really takes a lot of time and energy, and as our staff shrinks, there are less hands, less hours, to do all the work,” Hicswa explained. “Some things, unfortunately, are going to fall by the wayside. That impacts all of it. That was what my message was to the governor — yes, we can make these cuts mathematically, but the consequences of what that results in has to be considered.”

Hicswa said NWC is on the right track with enrollment, with the school’s Strategic Enrollment Management Plan helping to drive the numbers.

“I’m always disappointed; I want our enrollment to be up more,” she said. “But the numbers show that we’re doing what we’re supposed to be doing. And with the historical trends, we’re hanging right in there.”

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