Enrollment numbers for Inland Northwest community colleges are up as much as 22 percent this summer over a year ago, and numbers for fall are projected to jump up as much as 30 percent.
High unemployment rates as well as pricier tuition and capped enrollment at public universities are leading more students to apply to two-year institutions, officials say. People are seeking two-year degrees tied to employment in specific industries. They also are getting their general equivalency diplomas to compete for entry-level jobs, or taking less-expensive credits en route to four-year degrees.
All that is “bringing people to our doors,” said Gary Livingston, chancellor of Community Colleges of Spokane.
North Idaho College, which serves about 2,000 students, reported an increase in summer enrollment of 22 percent. The largest growth was in general studies programs, officials said.
“We had more students taking summer courses than ever before,” NIC President Priscilla Bell said.
Community Colleges of Spokane, which serves more than 14,000 students, reported preliminary enrollment increases of 3.2 percent at Spokane Community College and 8.2 percent at the Institute for Extended Learning. Figures for Spokane Falls Community College were not available.
Enrollment figures at all three “are higher than last summer, and last summer had very high numbers,” Livingston said.
“I think it’s the rule of thumb we’ve always lived by, that when the economy is bad, a lot of people go back to school to beef up their skills or start a new career path,” CCS spokeswoman Mary Harnetiaux said.
The fall term may be even busier.
Applications at NIC for fall are up 11 percent compared with this time last year, said Eric Murray, vice president of student services at NIC. Registrations are up 28 percent. Classes are already filling up.
“We’re reminding everyone that this year it is key to apply and register early,” Murray said. “Those students who wait until late August before registering won’t be able to get the classes they want.”
NIC anticipates being able to accommodate demand for the most popular classes, Murray said.
Community Colleges of Spokane reported a 33 percent increase in financial aid applications and a 20 percent increase in applications for fall. But budget cuts have forced reductions.
Livingston referred to the situation as an “unperfect” storm.
“The cuts to higher education in Washington were significant. To have those kinds of budget cuts on top of the demand has been perplexing,” he said. “Obviously, you are cutting staff when you have to cut budgets. It’s difficult for students to get their classes done.”