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Enrollment at Malheur County college continues to lag

Enrollment at TVCC continues to lag even after school officials pledged to boost student numbers. (The Enterprise/Kristine de Leon).

ONTARIO – Full-time student enrollment at Treasure Valley Community College continues to slump despite the college’s promises to reverse the trend.

State data on community college fall enrollment reported that by October TVCC had the equivalent of 559 full-time students, the lowest level of full-time equivalents since 2012.

The enrollment report reflects a decrease of about 7 percent in full-time equivalent students compared to last fall and down 35 percent from 2012, according to numbers released in October. FTE is the standard measure for enrollment across institutions, and the decrease suggests that fewer students are taking full-time loads.

Full-time equivalency accounts for the number of high school, part-time and full-time students enrolled at a college. The full-time equivalency calculation counts 15 credit hours being taken as one FTE student.

This number also determines the amount of state funding the college can get.

Missing the student enrollment target could have repercussions on the college’s finances.

The college’s budget for 2017-18 was dealt a huge blow last year because the incoming class was smaller than expected and fewer students were returning for the upcoming academic year.

In response to enrollment and budget issues, the college laid off seven faculty members and reworked contracts for the 2018-19 school year.

Even as the college comes off a period of faculty layoffs and budget cuts, TVCC continues to trail behind its enrollment goals.

This also comes after college officials promised to move TVCC toward financial stability and increased enrollment for the fall 2018 term.

Meanwhile, TVCC President Dana Young said she is optimistic and expects enrollment to go up.

“I would like it to stay flat or go up,” said Young. “I believe it is going to keep getting better. We absolutely want to keep enrollment up.”

Young said the college has taken steps to reverse the enrollment decline and will continue to do so. She said the college has ramped up its marketing and social media presence.

The president said the college also “turned in a lower budget” for the 2018-19 academic year and have “reduced costs across the board.”

“We budgeted in a more practical way,” Young said.

For budgeting this academic year, the college projected a 3 percent decline in full-time student enrollment.

Based on the numbers reported to the state, Young said TVCC is only down 4 percent of its target for reimbursable FTE.

Young added that the college reported its enrollment numbers to the state during the fourth week of the fall term, saying the end of the term numbers would be more accurate as registrations come at different times.

“We have to work with high schools on different schedules,” said Young, adding that the college tries to meet the needs of its diverse student population.

Young said numbers reported from the fourth week of the term only provides a snapshot of student enrollment at the time. Those figures, she said, could differ each day.

Abby Lee, TVCC’s public relations director who was present during the interview with Young, agreed with the president.

“The fall 2018 enrollment numbers can fluctuate a lot due to rolling student admissions and registrations,” she said. “Sometimes students taking dual credit or professional programs complete registrations later in the term.”

Lee pointed to the college’s enrollment numbers captured on Nov. 21, which showed the college’s latest report on fall term enrollment.

“If you look at the numbers from Nov. 21, which is later in the fall term, that’s not necessarily the number that you saw from Oct. 15,” she said. “Enrollment actually increased later into the term.”

According to the college’s latest enrollment report, reimbursable FTE was only down 3 percent. This suggests the college met its target enrollment in terms of budgeting.

“We are about flat in enrollment, but we expect it to increase over the next two terms,” said Young. “The only caveat is the economy. If we continue to have high employment numbers and a strong economy, then it’ll be harder to budget.”

With the economy on firmer footing, at least for now, demand for college courses has declined, she said.

“Are we satisfied? No,” said Lee. “The numbers aren’t good, but they’re better than last year.”

While the number of full-time students enrolling may look low, it has sparked optimism in some corners because student headcount is better than where TVCC was at a comparable point last year.

Looking at the state’s raw numbers of students, or headcount, TVCC has about 2,175 total students this fall, up about 20 percent from last fall.

Lee attributes this increase to the college’s recent efforts to improve enrollment. She said the college launched in the spring an aggressive marketing campaign using advanced technology, social media advertisements, television ads and direct communication to attract new students.

Young added that the college has also expanded its usage of a marketing software program, called Enrollment Rx, to communicate with current and prospective students.

“Enrollment Rx allows us to create more communication touch points with students that have applied for admission or have expressed interest in attending TVCC,” said Young.

Young said these efforts have improved enrollment.

“We saw an uptick in summer enrollment. So yes, it worked,” she said. “We don’t have the technology to measure exactly how successful it works, but we’re seeing the numbers have picked up.”

Young said such efforts were launched in the spring, so it may still be early to tell how effective they were.

Aside from continuing marketing campaigns, both Young and Lee also expect that special programs, such as aviation and automated systems, will likely turn around enrollment.

“The fall was our biggest enrollment in the aviation program,” said Young.

Lee said the college’s fixed-wing aviation program enrolled 12 full-time students during the fall term.

“We’re continuing to grow in automated control systems and in our aviation enrollment,” said Lee.

Another strategy the college has taken to increase enrollment is offering high school students a dual credit program, where they can sign up for courses that would count toward completing high school and college credit requirements.

College records suggest that TVCC has been dependent on high school students enrolling in the dual credit and Career Technical Education programs.

For example, for fall term, high school students taking CTE courses represented 37 percent of TVCC’s FTE enrollment Meanwhile, high school students enrolled in dual credit courses represented about 13 percent of the college’s FTE enrollment.

Last year, high school students accounted for 4 percent of the total FTE. During the 2016-17 school year, they represented 5 percent of total FTE.  

The college partners with Malheur County Educational Service District and other schools in eastern Oregon to provide college-level courses at the student’s high school or on campus.

Dual enrollment students also get to pay a discounted tuition.

Lee said that allowing students to enroll in dual credit and CTE courses helped with enrolling students, but that’s only one part of the college’s efforts to attract students.

“It’s difficult to tie one strategy to the admissions,” said Lee. “We have intensive recruiting at high schools and we’re contacting students who had completed an interest card.”