Enrollment Soars at SCC
Sandhills Community College is experiencing record enrollment this semester, and the downturn in the economy could be a reason.
Parking on the campus is at a premium these days. The lots are mostly full, and often students are forced to wait for a change of classes to find a spot within reasonable walking distance.
"I had to drive around and around several times the other day," said Erin Holden, an education major at the college. "I finally had to park in the grove of pine trees at the front of the college."
After losing jobs, many people turn to their local community colleges for training in technical skills or to finish a program they began earlier. Many choose to change careers altogether and pursue a field in which they are truly interested.
Community college enrollment historically rises about 3 percent for every percentage-point increase in unemployment.
A spokeswoman for North Carolina's community college system says enrollment was up in the fall at 49 of the state's 58 community colleges. It is up 7 percent statewide, about 12,000 students from a year ago, and many colleges are reporting that their spring enrollment topped their fall numbers for the first time in at least 20 years.
Sandhills just finished spring enrollment with almost 4,000 students, which is a 7 percent increase over the spring semester of last year.
"We generally see a drop in the number of students from fall to spring semesters," said Dr. Susanne Adams, vice president of student services, "but we have an increase over fall enrollment. Returning, new, and re-enrolled students are the greatest we have ever seen for a spring semester."
In the past few years, Sandhills has experienced a steady increase of around 3 percent in the number of credit hours taken each year. This figure has risen 9 percent for the spring semester, which got under way in January. The college will see an overall 6 percent increase in credit hours taken in the current academic year.
Doing More With Less
Tough economic times around the state also mean many community colleges are dealing with a growing wave of students at a time when the economic slowdown is pinching schools' budgets.
The Office of State Budget and Management must ensure the state budget is balanced. Because of a projected shortfall of around $2 billion, every community college in the state has already been required to revert 3 percent of its current budget back to the state, and may be called on to revert even more.
The 3 percent reversion means that Sandhills Community College has $516,000 less in its coffers than was expected at the beginning of the academic year.
In addition to the reversion, community colleges are implementing specific cost-cutting measures.
"We are not cutting anything that relates to classroom instruction," said Dr. John Dempsey, president of Sandhills Community College. "We have put a hold on hiring. There will be no equipment purchases that are not directly related to instruction or the essential running of the college, and all travel is now limited to our service area."
Impact on Summer
Tight budgets are forcing many community colleges to eliminate courses this summer, despite rising enrollments.
"We are not trimming our summer classes," reports Ronald Layne, dean of instruction. "We do not want to see anyone being forced to delay a graduation date due to the unavailability of summer classes."
"Some of our classes may fill up sooner," said Layne. "We have already seen many of our spring mini-mester classes fill and have added more sections."
Mini-mester classes are shorter semester classes that cover the entire course at a faster pace. Most are taught online. Classes began on February 17.
The summer semester schedule will differ from the past. The five-week session will see 23 class days instead of the usual 25, and the 10-week session will be four days shorter. The class periods will be lengthened. This schedule will reduce student travel to the campus.
Layne also expects classes to fill faster for summer semester and into the next academic year. "It may be wise to register for classes on the earliest possible dates," he added.
Giving to the College
Even in this economic downturn, donors continue to contribute to Sandhills. Private support through the Annual Fund for Sandhills and the SCC Guarantors Program is helping to ensure that students have the chance to come to school and complete their program of study.
"The SCC Foundation's commitment to educational opportunity for all those willing to do the academic work -- and to the excellence of the college's programs has not changed," said Rick Smith, dean of institutional advancement.
"Friends of the college continue to make generous gifts despite the challenges they may be facing," continued Smith. "We have all been inspired and humbled by the extraordinary generosity we have seen, even during these very difficult and uncertain times. Our donors clearly understand the importance of what Sandhills does each day for our students and for our community. "
In addition to the stumbling economy, the growth in student numbers at Sandhills Community College may be partially attributed to a change in marketing direction over the past few years.
The college has been reaching out to a wider audience in a variety of new media, including print, radio and billboard advertising. Some of these efforts will now need to be scaled back. Widespread mailings will be reduced. Prospective students may be referred to the SCC Web sites for further information.
North Carolina's community colleges have an open-door policy, which means that all who apply can attend. "All individuals deserve the opportunity to obtain an education or receive the training needed for meaningful employment," said Dr. Dempsey.
Sandhills Community College provides important services to the local community.
Convenient and affordable two-year degree programs and shorter diploma and certification programs are offered.
Many students choose to begin college at Sandhills and transfer to a four-year university after two years. The University Studies program provides a huge saving to students in these financially tight times.
Current high school and home-schooled students take college courses through Sandhoke Early College, Dual Enrollment, the First Step/Huskins program, and the Learn and Earn program.
Dislocated workers are aided through a rapid-response training program at the college. These programs can be a major incentive for attracting new and relocating businesses.
Existing local businesses are served with the training solutions offered at Sandhills. From the multitude of technical programs to the Professional Development courses offered in Continuing Education, the entire community benefits when an educated, trained work force exists.
Area entrepreneurs are able to take advantage of the free seminars given by the Small Business Center.
Training programs such as English as a Second Language provide the hope of opportunity for immigrants.
High school dropouts are given a second chance through the GED and adult high school programs.
More like this story