CNCC Craig enrollment numbers down, but new president working every avenue to trend the other way
Whether it’s because of rising tuition costs or disruption since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, across the state of Colorado, enrollment in higher education is down. At Colorado Northwestern Community College, though enrollment is slowly trending up across the school as a whole — and those involved in recruitment say the work isn’t done — numbers are down substantially at the Craig campus
Dr. Lisa Jones, president of CNCC, said that, in addition to financial barriers, students often face other obstacles before choosing to enroll. Housing and childcare are among a number of concerns that Jones is hoping to tackle in the coming year.
“(Whether it’s) housing insecurity, food insecurity, financial insecurity, we’ll be addressing those issues,” Jones said. “We developed a grant proposal that was approved for a position for student support, and that’s all this position does. It’s through a COSI grant, and that is for student success.”
A portion of Wednesday’s meeting with the Craig campus’s board was centered around this year’s enrollment data. CNCC as a whole had a 7% increase from last year for FTE, or full-time enrollment, and a 16% increase in headcount, or total students.
But at the Craig campus, FTE is down 11%, and headcount is down 14%.
“On the Craig campus, there’s 247, which is down — especially from a couple of years ago when we were about 300,” Kelly Scott, executive director of institutional effectiveness, said Wednesday. “So it just continues to kind of go down, and that’s a similar trend at Rangely, just not as steep. But really, overall, even if you took concurrent enrollment out, our FTP enrollment is still up slightly, like 1%.”
Jones said most of CNCC’s Craig campus is non-traditional or older students, who usually have higher hesitancy toward returning to school than students who are fresh out of high school.
“We have got to do better,” Jones said. “I’ll tell you, we need to grow. You know, we consider ourselves a part of this community and try to contribute to it in a good way where people trust the work that we’re doing … We’re out in the community, and we’re listening to people, but we’ve got to do more activities where we’re inviting the community to come in.”
According to data from the Colorado Community College System, last school year, 35.1% of courses were offered face-to-face, compared to 50.3% in the 2018-2019 school year. Because of the pandemic, web or “distanced” learning went up about 5% between 2019 and 2021. Internships and practicum learning — which for most students, comes in the form of nursing practicals and other hands-on learning — stayed about the same, at approximately 40%.
Another point of interest is retention. If a student does not stay past the first semester, that means the school has to recruit an extra student the next fall to stay level, Jones said. The more that drop out, the more you have to replace.
“We are developing, with our new Vice President for Student Services, strategies to work with all students each semester on certain things to ensure their success,” Jones said. “And that means paying attention to their midterm grades, and if they’re struggling, to get them into tutoring, or you know, get them into other forms of support.”
Demographics of CNCC students shifted, as well. The largest drops came from older students, which Jones says is partly because of scarce access to childcare during the pandemic. Jones said the college is strategizing in several ways in order to make sure older students feel comfortable in the classroom.
Students ages 55-64 dropped by 43%, followed by students 65+ (40%) and those 45-54 (38.1%). This could be because of the large financial strain caused by the pandemic. As more parents have had to stay home to care for children who were remote learning, fewer were able to attend college classes. First, Jones said, the school has worked to find influential members of older populations and target those influencers in order to make the idea of higher education more accessible to these groups.
Who are those influencers? Mothers and wives, Jones said.
“How do we focus on getting people who we know are not happy with their situation to come and get an education and get training? What do we need to do?” Jones said. “This is not the only conversation; it’s just one conversation … What can we do for those women, that makes some sense, that they might be interested in, and where they can make money that is recession-proof?”
As Craig heads toward big changes as a result of the departure of coal, CNCC is hoping to be a bridge between those who are set to lose jobs after the mines and power plants close. For many families, Jones said, children have grown up seeing their parents make an excellent living without a degree. While this can work for some, it’s very difficult today to find a job without a degree that pays over minimum wage, she added.
“When the economy improves, the adult population goes down (at the school), and when the economy starts to tank, you start seeing people circle back around,” Jones said. “Unfortunately, in this particular situation, it’s imminent for jobs to be lost in Moffat County, about 1,400 in the county, because of the coal mines, but why are those 1,400 people not coming and enrolling? Because they think that maybe they’ve got a little bit more time. I think, closer to the year or two before some of the plants will close, you’re starting to see a little bit more frenzy.”
Because of this predicted frenzy, Jones is hoping to jump forward and meet potential students in the middle. She said that pre-pandemic, advisers would visit Tri-State about once a month to meet with partners at the plant.
“We need to get our advisors back in here to start meeting with employees, to help them with career goals, and to be able to provide them with options for what’s going to happen after the close if they’re not going to retire,” she said.
Meanwhile, concurrent enrollment — which allows high-school students to take college credits before graduating — is up significantly, 25%. It’s these students, Jones said, that helped boost CNCC in a time where higher enrollment has been unstable.
“We have a large number of students whose family members may not have gone to college. So if they did, they’d be first generation. If they’ve seen their parents do really well financially without going to college, it’s not going to be in their mind to do that,” she said. “If we know that the mines, coal mines and other oil and energy plants are closing, there’s a need for us to provide training in areas where our citizens can get jobs, well above minimum wage.”
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Over 7% of the Moffat County School District’s alternative school has tested positive for COVID-19, meaning that staff will be required to wear masks over the next week.