As one of your representatives to the board of trustees of Northwest College, I have recently been approached by several members of this community. The comments are usually directed to the question …
As one of your representatives to the board of trustees of Northwest College, I have recently been approached by several members of this community. The comments are usually directed to the question of why our enrollment numbers are down and who is responsible. I would like to share some information that might give some answers to those questions.
Yes, our enrollment numbers are down, but this is a nationwide trend. Community colleges and four-year universities across the country are experiencing this drop. According to the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center, which publishes the figures annually, overall post secondary enrollment decreased 1.7 percent last year and has been on a steady decline since 2012. Community colleges recorded a 3.4 percent drop in enrollment and four-year public institutions recorded a 1 percent drop in enrollment. This situation is not unique to northwest Wyoming.
The population of high school students in the Big Horn Basin has been decreasing. Locally, I taught here in Powell for 37 years before retiring. When I started teaching at Powell High School there were 51 teachers and 158 graduates. Last year the 2019 class of seniors had 106 students — only two-thirds the numbers in 1971. The number of teachers at PHS (33.5) was also down at about the same ratio. The pool of prospective traditional-aged college students is smaller and the competition for their applications is greater.
When colleges started implementing dual and concurrent enrollment in the high schools, this affected the number of students who are entering college as freshmen. Some real benefits to families are that dual and concurrent classes are free to high school students and they count toward both a high school diploma and a college degree. Many of these students take enough of these classes to enter college as sophomores and some qualify for a two-year associate of arts or associate of science degree before they even graduate from high school. This is an outstanding benefit for local students, but it is also a factor in our enrollment numbers.
Our college has also implemented “15 to Finish” programs. It takes at least 15 credits per semester to graduate in four semesters (two years) with 60 credits towards an AS or AA transfer degree. Previously the “full load” was considered to be 12 credits per semester, meaning many students required a fifth semester to graduate. We are actively advising these students to finish earlier and encouraging them to graduate in two years, which also has implications for our enrollment count.
Regardless of low enrollment numbers, we are doing some amazing work at the college. In 2011-12 — one of our high enrollment years — we had 441 completions (total number of degrees or certificates awarded). In 2017-18, we had 439 completions — just two less. Even with lower enrollment, we are retaining and graduating students in record numbers, which speaks volumes to the outstanding work being done at our college despite this perfect storm of enrollment challenges. All institutions of high learning face unique difficulties; know that ours are being handled strategically, with consideration and dedication to the communities we serve.
We hope you will stand with us.
(Carolyn Danko is a member of the Northwest College Board of Trustees. She is currently serving her fourth four-year term on the board, having been re-elected in 2018.)