Campuses adjust to enrollment spikes

One of the largest U.S. community colleges has expanded course offerings and operating hours to accommodate a flood of new students, but cash-strapped state governments have forced other two-year colleges to slash class sections, even as student applications pour in at an unprecedented clip.

Bringing weekend classes to Portland Community College’s four campuses in 2007 has paid dividends this year as the economic downturn has spurred a 21-percent enrollment jump. Underemployed and newly unemployed adults are hoping to bolster their resumes in the coming years, and the college’s class sections on Friday nights, Saturdays, and Sundays fit adults’ busy schedules.

“We just want to be as flexible as possible for people coming back to school,” said Dana Haynes, public affairs manager for Portland Community College, where officials have seen a spike in the number of nursing, welding, and teaching students. “For the working student, it’s become very popular.”

Miami Dade Community College, among the largest nationwide, won’t increase its number of class sections–and in some cases, has trimmed back the number of sections–as state funding has dwindled by 11 percent despite the steady increase in students seeking training during a recession.

The massive jump in demand was evident June 18, when thousands of students logged into the college’s web site to register for fall courses in the first minutes of availability. Most of the 20,000 students were turned away or received error messages because the site’s capacity was quickly reached. More than 500 classes were filled within 12 hours of opening class registration. The college projects that 30,000 students will not be able to take classes they need.

“It will delay their degree attainment and ultimately their entry into the workforce,” said Juan Mendieta, a spokesman for Miami Dade Community College, which has eight campuses, 164,000 students, and more than 2,000 faculty members.

Miami Dade Community College funding has dropped 18 percent since 2006, and to avoid more course cutbacks, a college memo spells out ways the college can remain viable.

“While we have made every effort to minimize the impact on faculty and staff, obviously, there are no painless remedies that involve jobs or compensation,” according to the March 28 memo sent by Miami Dade President Eduardo J. Padron.

“Our priority is clear: we need to protect our core mission of teaching and providing essential services to students. To do so, it’s important to resist the temptation to simply cut across the board. Such a strategy would surely invite mediocrity in the most essential aspects of our mission.”

Eighty-six vacant positions were eliminated, saving $4.4 million, and 111 employees were laid off–resulting in a savings of $7.2 million. There were also cutbacks in overtime availability, a freeze on all employee travel, and other, less-severe reductions were instituted as well.

“We have been forced to the last resort of losing people who are valuable members of our community and drawing our belts tighter yet with regard to program operation,” Padron wrote.

Denny Carter

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