“I love it, it’s comfortable here,” said Champion, of Springville, who is majoring in office administration.
She likely will not need to worry about that changing any time soon.
After the recession hit in 2008, community colleges across the country experienced increases in enrollment as people trained for new career opportunities. As the economy has started stabilizing, however, those colleges are seeing enrollment drop. Combined with new state budget cuts, Alabama community colleges like Gadsden State are finding it tougher to fund services and employee payrolls.
“We were concerned about the budget cuts, but those turned out to not be as bad as we first thought,” said Raymond Staats, president of Gadsden State, which has two campuses in Anniston. “We are seeing some decline in enrollment … we are predicting a modest decline in credit hours this fall.”
Staats said his and other community colleges across the state experienced increases in enrollment between 2008 and 2010, coinciding with the worst period of the recession. During the school year of 2008 and 2009, Gadsden State had 8,970 students. That rose to 10,020 students between the 2009 and 2010 school years. Enrollment dropped to 9,947 between 2010 and 2011, however.
According to the Alabama Department of Postsecondary Education, which oversees the state’s community college system, approximately 96,890 students are enrolled in the system for this fall. That is a significant decrease from the more than 102,000 students enrolled in 2010.
Other community colleges across the country experienced similar boosts in enrollment and are now seeing declines, said Norma Kent, senior vice president of communications at the American Association of Community Colleges.
“We did an analysis and between 2007 and 2011, (and) enrollment across the country went up about 20 percent,” Kent said. “But what we’re hearing for this coming year is enrollment is flat or down.”
Kent said changes in the economy are to blame for the shifting enrollment numbers.
“We anticipate that some increased employment is starting to mitigate the gain in enrollment a little bit,” Kent said.
With fewer enrolled students, less money is available for services and employee paychecks; the latest state education budget cuts compound the problem. According to an email Thursday from the Department of Postsecondary Education, state community colleges will see their budgets decrease by 2.42 percent for the coming school year. Also, tuition will be increased across the board by 1.87 percent.
Staats said he and his administrators are searching for ways to save money, including possibly cutting personnel.
“We’re already looking very hard at personnel … fortunately we’ve cut employment only through attrition so far,” Staats said.
Also to save money, Gadsden State recently changed its summer class schedule from five days to four days per week. Last year, Gadsden State cut its cheerleading, baseball and cross-country teams to save money.
Staats is also concerned recent changes to the federal Pell Grant program could further reduce enrollment. Jane Glickman, spokeswoman for the U.S. Department of Education, said Wednesday via email to The Star that unlike previous years, community college students will now only be allowed to use a Pell Grant once each year. Rising costs in the grant program led to the change, Glickman said.
The change means some students will be unable to enroll in as many classes each year as they could previously, Staats said.
“Many of our students use federal aid,” he said.
Star staff writer Patrick McCreless: 256-235-3561. On Twitter @PMcCreless_Star.