Early enrollment figures from Columbia Basin College’s first day of classes show a slight decline in the number of students, but the college’s president sees plenty of reason for optimism.
There were 6,616 students at the Pasco and Richland campuses Monday, according to preliminary data provided by the college. That’s down from the 6,656 students on the first day of classes in 2014.
Among the areas seeing enrollment declines are the college’s work force programs and Running Start, which has been one of the fastest-growing student groups in recent years.
CBC President Rich Cummins still thinks the college will end up with more than the nearly 7,400 students it had enrolled by the end of the last academic year, he said.
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The college’s still relatively new and small four-year programs are seeing growth of up to 55 percent. Students are also taking more classes — the full-time equivalency is up 2.5 percent so far.
“The more efficient we can get our students to be and get them to persist, the better the equation is for everyone,” Cummins said.
Declines in the college’s work force programs — which include everything from automotive to welding courses — are expected, as they typically see enrollment fall off when the economy is in good shape, college officials said.
Running Start, which allows high school juniors and seniors to attend classes on college and university campuses and earn college credit, had 905 students as of Monday. That’s down from 951 at the same time last year, but it’s not completely unexpected, Cummins said.
Washington State University Tri-Cities launched its own Running Start program this fall, enrolling 100 students. While most of the students come from high schools in Richland, university officials said they have students from across the Tri-Cities in those classes. It’s too soon to say what WSU Tri-Cities’ program could mean for Running Start at CBC in the long term.
“I would hope together we grow the Running Start program,” Cummins said.
The college’s bachelor of applied science degree program is seeing growth, though it remains a small part of CBC’s broader student body. The cybersecurity program has the full-time equivalent of 30 students, up 55 percent from the previous year, while project management with 26 FTEs is up 26 percent. The applied management program has 43 FTEs, up 14 percent from the beginning of the fall 2014 term.
The college doesn’t want to get too big, Cummins said — enrollment exceeding 105 percent of its designated state funding level causes the college to lose money as it has to hire more adjunct faculty and staff and make other adjustments to meet student needs.
But it’s the increase in FTEs, which is calculated by dividing the total number of courses students are enrolled in by the total headcount of students, that shows promise, Cummins said.
A 2.5 percent increase in FTEs shows students are loading up their schedules more, meaning they are better able to handle the cost of a full class load, a sign the economy is strong and students feel confident in pursuing an education.