PENDLETON — An enrollment rise had administrators at Blue Mountain Community College feeling hopeful before the start of the term, but that increase has since been replaced with a decline.
“Things looked pretty good in late July,” BMCC President Dennis Bailey-Fougnier said in a recent report. “By September, new enrollments had completely dropped off.”
The reason for the drop is uncertain as of now, according to interim Vice President of Student Affairs Bruce Clemetsen.
“We can’t put our finger on what happened,” he said.
For two weeks in late summer, enrollment sat at a notable high, he said. In late August, there was a 5% increase in full-time equivalent enrollment.
But into the final week of fall term at BMCC, the headcount stood at 2,356 students compared with 2,750 students at the same time a year ago.
The headcount, which represents the number of students taking classes, has increased a bit since then, but full-time equivalent enrollment — which indicates how many hours of classes are being taken — remains down 6% from a year ago.
“I can say we’ve noticed the declines in the amount of students enrolling in early college credits,” Clemetsen added.
In response, the community college has been making calls to degree-seeking students to ensure they’ll register for winter term. Clemetsen added some students might initially register for classes but not follow through on the whole process.
Registration for winter term closes on Jan. 10, according to the school’s website.
“There are a number of students that might wait to see what their grades from the fall term are, and then they’ll register,” Celemetsen said.
Some of those students may have their tuition funded by a third party, like a relative or employer, and funds may be contingent on satisfactory grades.
The college is also strategizing ways to increase full-time equivalency by encouraging students already registered to take on more credits.
And while the drop hits campus, there’s a 24% spike in full-time equivalent enrollment for GED classes from last year, Celemetsen said.
“I know the folks involved in that program have really been getting out there to help people register,” he said. “That’s a plus.”
This November, unemployment in Oregon fell below 4% for the first time since the late 1970s, according to the Oregon Department of Employment and has held historical lows for the past three years.
But with that comes a decline in the number of people interested in signing up for community college, Clemetsen said, which can affect the total headcount of students each year.
“At the same time, students can find employment which may reduce how many credits they’re taking,” he added.
Keeping full-time equivalent up doesn’t just mean filling the hallways with people excited to learn. It matters financially, too.
According to recent documents, tuition makes up about 28% of BMCC’s funding resources this school year.
State funding is affected too. This year, the school identified a projected 3% decrease in state funding, in part due to full-time enrollment numbers, from the last three years compared to the state average.
“What we’re trying to watch is if we’re above the growth or shrinkage rate statewide,” Clemetsen said. “We’re not too far away from the average.”