College enrollment bounces back
By Gabriel Lucich
The pandemic was hard on the Oregon school system, public colleges were no exception and the number of students on campuses statewide fell drastically. Enrollment is rebounding in schools across Oregon, and nothing expresses this recovery more than the packed parking lots and crowded common areas of the Oregon City campus of Clackamas Community College on the first day of fall term.
The CCC Community has witnessed cycles of boom and bust with regard to the student presence on campus and in classrooms. Some terms made McLoughlin and Rook halls seem like ghost towns. In other buildings, the campus has vibrated with activity.
Jeff Shaffer, CCC Vice President of Finance, described the current and past numbers of enrolled students on campus.
“Fall of 2022, first week was 5,721 and fall of 2023 first week was 6,207, which is an 8.5% increase in headcount,” Shaffer wrote via email. “Summer term was up 24% over last year. Fall term through the first week is up 13% with a total increase in enrollment over 2022 at 15%.”
Other local community colleges are reporting similar increases, according to Shaffer. Portland Community College is up 10%. Nearly every college in Oregon experienced a drop in enrollment during the pandemic, with the average drop somewhere around 25%. Most are also reporting similar rates of return to former numbers.
Chemeketa Community College, located near Salem, has experienced consistent gains, but also experienced the only drop in enrollment.
One exception to the statewide post-COVID drop in enrollment was Klamath Community College.
Klamath opened its doors in the late 1990s and has been growing ever since; with most of the growth coming in the ten years since.
That’s when Roberto Gutierrez took over as president. The college’s public information officer said that Gutierrez was a driving force behind the growth.
“It is for a multitude of factors that Klamath Community College has continued to grow in facilities, offerings, and enrollment,” said Kurt Liedtke, KCC public information officer. “It has been a communal effort to adapt to changing times, a constant eye towards progress rather than retraction when times are tough. Strong leadership, and most of all great community partners with shared educational and economic goals for our region that has led our path to success.”
Geographic isolation was another contributing factor in KCC’s growth through the pandemic. The separation of the campus in a city far from population centers allowed a slower spread of the virus through the college and surrounding community.
Rogue Community College in Medford showed similar numbers.
“Community colleges across the country experienced significant enrollment decline during the pandemic,” said Rogue Community College President Randy Weber via an RCC spokesperson.
Mt. Hood Community College has been bouncing back in a big way as well. The vocational programs have played a large part in their growth, mirroring the strategies used by the other schools to increase enrollment. The welding program alone grew by 75% going into the current term.
Every community college student should be concerned about getting back to pre-COVID enrollment levels as soon as possible. Low enrollment is tied to higher tuition and fewer faculty. It would mean more online classes and less of an immersive learning experience on campus. In-person courses with larger class sizes would also be a side-effect, if the student count fails to increase.
While the rebounding numbers look promising for community colleges in general, comparing the growth of the last few years to the pre-pandemic numbers shows that there is still a lot of work left to be done.