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Central Oregon Community College Sees Enrollment Increase for First Time in 10 Years

This fall, Central Oregon Community College in Bend, Redmond, Madras and Prineville saw a 21 percent increase in enrollment. That’s the first time enrollment has increased there in nearly a decade.

Community colleges, which usually see an increase in enrollment during a recession, were hit particularly hard by the pandemic. Even when unemployment went up during the pandemic, nationally, enrollment at community colleges fell more than 10% in the last three years. This fall, that trend seems to be improving nationwide, especially in Central Oregon. Alicia Moore, Vice President of Student Affairs at Central Oregon Community College, says part of the reason may be the recent slowing down of the job market.

“The significant increases we saw in wages during the pandemic are starting to slow down,” she said. “So anecdotally, in talking with our students through new student on-boarding and advising, many are saying they don’t see that career track that they anticipated having through some of those higher paying jobs.”

A boxy building surrounded by trees

Moore says community colleges may also be seeing increased enrollment because they are more responsive to the needs of students from lower-income and marginalized backgrounds.

“Community colleges in particular are turning to more holistic student supports,” she said. “By adding services such as food banks, emergency loans, clothing supplies, especially those things needed for an internship or an interview — those wrap-around support services are bringing students back to the higher education setting.”

Moore says the biggest growth at Central Oregon Community College is in technical skills programs like nursing, pharmacology and culinary arts. They are also seeing more students enrolling in non-credit classes to develop business skills, and high school students taking college credit classes.

Whether or not the economy does slide into a recession, Moore thinks demographics alone will lead to the continued increase in community college enrollment, as high school graduates who never went to college during the pandemic make the choice to go back to school.

“Nationally during the pandemic, over 600,000 students … straight from high school never attended a community college in the United States,” she said. “And we’re starting to see those students — thankfully — come back to higher education, as they often were part of different populations that are most disenfranchised in this country.”

Source : OPB