Postsecondary enrollment increases locally and nationwide

May 30, 2012

From “Rising local higher education enrollment reflects trends” — Local campuses are part of a national trend that has seen college enrollment shoot up as the economy has struggled.

For the past five years or so, colleges across the country have been inundated with applications and from 2008 to 2009, enrollment in college grew by more than 7 percent to just less than 21 million, according to the U.S. Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics. New figures show that rates of enrollment still are increasing, though at a slower rate. In 2010, the number of students in postsecondary institutions was 21.6 million, up 2.8 percent from 2009.

At the same time, many colleges and other institutions have made their admission process more competitive, a trend described in a January 2008 Newsweek article titled “Getting in Gets Harder.”

The economy has played a significant role in the increased interest in college, because students realize they need more than a high school diploma to get a job, said Laurie Borowicz, vice president of student services at Northcentral Technical College, who has just completed a doctoral dissertation on enrollment trends.

NTC has nearly doubled in size within the past four years, enrolling 6,070 students last year in either one- or two-year programs, up from 3,149 in 2008.

Mid-State Technical College, which has facilities that include a Wisconsin Rapids campus and a center in the city of Adams, has seen a 30 percent increase in full-time students since the 2007-08 academic year, something officials said is directly correlated with the economy’s dramatic downturn.

“It is certainly in line with unemployment,” said Connie Willfahrt, vice president of Student Affairs and Information Technology at MSTC. “When the recession hit, we (saw) higher enrollment.”

The University of Wisconsin-Marshfield/Wood County reported a 16 percent increase during the previous four years, adding about 100 students. Nearly 70 percent of the members of UW-M/WC’s student body are first in their families to attend college.

“We see more students pursuing practical majors,” said Annette Hackbarth-Onson, interim assistant campus dean of Student Services at UW-M/WC. “They are looking toward a destination.”

MSTC has added more sections and hired additional part-time faculty to cope with increased demand for classes, Willfahrt said.

MSTC and NTC both see more students pursuing degrees in health programs. At NTC those programs were so popular there were waiting lists, Borowicz said, some stretching several years.

“That wasn’t serving us or the students well,” Borowicz said. Now students take an admission test and are accepted to NTC health programs based on the results.

MSTC is seeing enrollment start to level off, something Willfahrt said can be attributed to the economy slowly recovering. However, she said MSTC doesn’t plan to pull back on faculty as the need is still great.

MSTC operates three campuses in central Wisconsin and the center in Adams. NTC operates six campuses.

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