Enrollment decline cause for concern?
What makes a campus thrive? What allows a college to provide a quality education and competitive services? The answer is the student population, and more specifically, the tuition and fees collected from them.
According to the NCC Fact Book, 59% of the revenue generated by the college comes from student tuition and fees.
Overall, NCC has seen a decline of 413 students between Fall 2015 and Fall 2016, by approximately four percent. At Monroe Campus specifically, the decline is more pronounced at six percent.
Considering that in August 2014, NCC opened their new $72 million campus in Monroe County, the decline in enrollment gives pause at least. The sentiment for building new infrastructure for colleges is the thought that if the facilities are nice, the students will come.
The U.S. Census Bureau demographics for Monroe County compared 2010 to 2013 and the numbers showed a decline for residents 15 to 19 at six percent. Resource allocation/re-allocation and careful planning on the part of NCC as Finance Vice President of Operations James Dunleavy described, can prevent disruption of services provided.
However, over the long term, as the decline in younger demographics continues, it will affect enrollment numbers.
For Northampton County, the declines in residents are less pronounced at one and a half percent for this year.
Looking at the graduation rates for high schools that feed NCC over the past five years, the number of graduates from Northampton County public schools has decreased by 66 students per year. Moreover, the percentage of graduates from local high schools that attend NCC has steadily decreased from a peak in 2013 of 27% to 24.6% last year.
For Monroe County public schools, the decline was not as pronounced, but the evidence from both counties points to a changing, aging population. As the Wall Street Journal reported in 2016, the birth rate in the United States has still not recovered from the recession.
Birth rates don’t seem like a huge deal at the micro level, but looking long-term, the health of an economy and subsequently, institutions of higher learning such as NCC rely on a large population.
So if the number of students attending NCC has been declining over the past five years, the puzzle of the increased number of graduates still exists.
Dunleavy concluded, “There are three main factors that contribute to the [enrollment decline: a shifting population, the countercyclical relationship of community colleges to the economy, and competition from four-year schools.”
In the NCC Placement Report for Class of 2015, the list of total graduates by year extends all the way back to 1967. During the recession, the numbers went from under 950 in May of 2007 to over 1350 last year.
When the economy struggles, people go back to school to gain a foothold in the job market, retrain for skills that better fit labor demands and make themselves more employable.
As the economy has rebounded with a GDP growing at 1.4%, slow, yet steady according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the enrollment at places like NCC has leveled off and declined slightly.
Issues that involve populations take time to reveal the magnitude of the problem. Over the next ten years, we may revisit this topic and find that the small decline today is actually part of a domino effect on budgets and services. For the near future, things look up for NCC, even as the number of attending students may dip.