Still Doing More With Less:
Community Colleges Continue to Confront Rising Enrollments and Eroding Budgets
Enrollments continue to explode as institutional budgets continue to erode according to a new national survey of community college presidents and district chancellors conducted by the League for Innovation in the Community Colleges and The Campus Computing Project.
Fully 94 percent of the 128 campus presidents and district chancellors participating in the winter 2010 survey report that headcount enrollment in their districts and on their campuses increased compared to one year ago, about the same as in the 2009 survey. However, the 2010 data show more campuses reporting larger enrollment gain: almost a third (31 percent) of the 2010 survey participants experienced total (headcount) enrollment growth of 15 percent or more from winter 2009 to winter 2010, while another third (32 percent) report enrollment gains of 10-15 percent. In contrast, just over a fourth (28 percent) of the campuses participating in the 2009 survey reported enrollment gains of 10 percent or more. These enrollment gains came as unemployment rose from 7.7 to 10.0 percent from January to December 2009, and as Bureau of Labor Statistics data show that some 14 million Americans were unemployed at the end of the last calendar year.
Additionally the 2010 survey reveals that a growing number of community colleges reporting enrollment gains across a range of enrollment categories and curricular areas: compared to the 2009 survey, more campuses report increased enrollments among full-time students, part-time students, and transfer students; in their certificate, workforce, and career enhancement programs; and also among business, health care, and technology majors.
These enrollment gains stand in stark contrast to the budget cuts that continue to affect the nation’s community colleges. While the number of community colleges reporting reductions in their operating budgets fell slightly this year (52 percent in 2010 vs. 57 percent in 2009), the number of campuses experiencing budget cuts that exceeded 10 percent more than doubled, from 7 percent last year to 18 percent in 2010. This pattern also appears within specific budget categories: a slight decline in the number of community colleges reporting cuts in their budgets for instruction and administrative services, technology resources, and professional development, coupled with more institutions reporting larger budget cuts in these categories for 2010 than in 2009.
The little good news about campus finances involves mid-year budget recissions, which declined from 61 percent in 2009 to 54 percent this past year. However, even as a smaller number of community colleges experienced mid-year budget cuts, the average mid-year rescission rose, from 5 percent last year to 7 percent in 2010.
“The continuing enrollment gains over the past 12 months confirm that the nation’s community colleges are at the forefront of both individual efforts and community responses to the economic downturn,” says Kenneth C. Green founding director of The Campus Computing Project, the organization that designed survey and managed the project. “The 2010 survey also reveals that the community colleges remain on the receiving end of the ‘do more with less and do it better’ mantra that typically accompanies budget cuts and economic upheaval. Community colleges are doing and serving a lot more, and are doing it with much less. This has significant consequences for instruction resources, instructional support, and for student support services.”
The combination of rising enrollments and continuing budget cuts led more community colleges to impose enrollment caps this past year. The proportion of campuses experiencing enrollment caps rose from 9 percent in 2009 to 13 percent in 2010. Within sectors, the community colleges that were the most likely to experience enrollment caps were metropolitan campuses (19 percent), and campuses enrolling either 5-10,000 students (21 percent), or more than 10,000 students (26 percent).
The survey continues to confirm the sustained growth in online courses and enrollments in community colleges over the past year. Almost 9 in 10 of the surveyed presidents (87 percent in 2010, compared to 92 percent in 2009) report increases in student enrollment in the online courses offered by their institution over the past year: a fifth (19 percent) report online course enrollments increased by 5-10 percent, another fourth (25 percent) cite gains of 10-15 percent, while almost a third (31 percent) saw enrollments in online courses rise by 15 percent of more compared to last year. And although the numbers are not as dramatic, more than half the presidents (53 percent vs. 51 percent in 2009 percent) also report gains in the number online certificates offered by their campuses, while 56 percent (vs. 57 percent in 2009) indicated that online degree programs also increased in the past year.
As was the case in 2009, the survey data also confirm that student demand, not institutional efforts to contain instructional costs, is the primary catalyst for the increase in online courses in community colleges over the past year. Almost all the presidents (91 percent vs. 56 percent last year) report that their campuses are offering more online courses in response to student interest and demand. In contrast, only two-fifths (39 percent, compared to 34.4 percent last year) confirm that their institutions are moving to expand online programs “as a way to reduce the cost of instruction.”
Almost two-thirds of the campuses and districts participating in the survey received federal stimulus program money this past year, averaging $1.95 million per campus (range: $1.35M for rural colleges vs. $3.03M for community colleges that enroll more than 10,000 students). Presidents report that their institutions typically spent the stimulus dollars to save jobs, particularly instructional positions: more than two-fifths (42 percent) indicate that their institutions spent stimulus money to retain instruction positions; a third (32 percent) used the money to retain instructional support staff, and a fourth spent stimulus money to retain administrative and clerical jobs. In contrast, just 16 percent used the stimulus money to create new instructional positions or to hire additional instructional support personnel, and only 6 percent used the money for new clerical or custodial jobs. Also, a sixth (17 percent) spent stimulus dollars this past year for physical plant improvements.
While presidents are no doubt happy to have the stimulus money, the survey data suggest some tempered optimism about the benefits of the federal money to aid enrollments at their colleges and improve employment in their communities. This year 62 percent of the survey respondents agreed/strongly agreed that the federal stimulus funds would benefit enrollments at their institutions, compared to 68 percent in 2009. Similarly, 55 percent of the presidents participating in the 2010 survey agreed/strongly agreed that stimulus money would benefit employment in their communities, down from 77 percent a year ago.
The League for Innovation/Campus Computing Project survey of community college presidents received financial support from Pearson and SunGard Higher Education. A total of 128 community college presidents and district chancellors participated in the online survey, which was conducted from February 26 to March 25, 2010.
Executive summary (PDF)