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December 20, 2010 5:24 pm

NWC enrollment increase smaller than expected

Written by Ilene Olson

But enrollment still is growing

Fall student enrollment numbers at Northwest College aren’t as rosy as expected, rising about 2 percent this year instead of the predicted 5-percent increase.

Bob Krenz, interim vice president for academic affairs, told the NWC Board of Trustees last week that he repeatedly predicted a 5-percent increase based on new-student enrollment figures, which did grow by about 5 percent.

But the number of returning students fell unexpectedly, reducing the overall gain to 2 percent, he said.

Preliminary numbers, as of the final day of fall-semester classes last week, show a head count of 2,174 — a decline of 24 students from 2,198 for fall 2009, according to Lisa Smith, NWC institutional researcher.

However, the full-time equivalency of 2,130.6 represented an increase of about 2 percent from 2,089.4 in fall 2009, the figures show.

The full-time equivalent is calculated by adding the number of credit hours taken by all students and dividing the total by 12, the minimum course load for full-time students.

Smith said the increase in full-time equivalency demonstrates that students were taking more credits on average in fall 2010 than in fall 2009.

“Both types of enrollment numbers are useful to us,” Smith said in an e-mail. “Even though actual student head count decreased somewhat ... students were taking more credits on average in fall 2010 than in fall 2009, so instructors would likely have seen an increase of students in courses.”

In 2008, the head count was 1,810, and the full-time equivalency stood at 1,791.8.

Krenz said this fall’s lower-than-expected enrollment growth could be a result of improving economic conditions that prompted former students to take jobs instead of coming back to school. But, without more information, “I don’t know,” he said.

Krenz said he plans to visit with administrators at other Wyoming community colleges to see if similar trends occurred elsewhere in the state.

In an e-mail, NWC President Paul Prestwich said, “Last year, our fall-to-fall retention rate jumped from the previous year, but this year, the rate moved back to a similar rate to 2008.”

Prestwich said Northwest College’s retention figures have been at or near the top compared to other Wyoming colleges for the past several years.

“Wyoming’s numbers rank high nationwide,” he added, “so Northwest does very well nationally in terms of student retention.”

He said student retention is important for more reasons than boosting enrollment numbers.

“Retention is always a significant concern for us, because we hope for success for all our students. Like enrollment, retention can fluctuate from year to year, and it can be difficult to know what the most salient factors are in any given year.”

But overall, “I’m very pleased that we grew at all after having such enormous growth the previous year,” he said.

Initial spring enrollment numbers show continued growth at Northwest College as well.

According to information from Brad Hammond, NWC registrar and admissions officer, enrollment numbers as of Friday show a spring 2011 head count of 1,704 — up 66 students for a 4-percent increase from the 1,638 students enrolled this spring.

Full-time equivalency shows smaller expected growth at 1,741, up 49, or 2.9 percent, from 1,692 a year ago.
In spring 2009, the head count was 1,371 and full-time equivalency stood at 1,478.

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