Covid drives down enrollment at Treasure Valley Community College

Data provided by Oregon’s Higher Education Coordinating Commission showed decreases in both headcount and full time equivalent enrollment.

ONTARIO – New data from Oregon’s Higher Education Coordinating Commission shows enrollment numbers have plummeted at Treasure Valley Community College as the Covid pandemic complicates every aspect of education for students.

The number of students enrolled fell by 436 to 1,779. That represents a 20% drop from the 2,215 enrolled at this time last year.

Meanwhile, full-time equivalent enrollment statistics, which determine the amount of funding that the college receives from the state, show enrollment down by 19%.

“Every one of those percentage points equals $50,000 to TVCC,” said Abby Lee, associate vice president of the college. “So if we ride this thing flat, we’re going to have to make some significant cuts.”

What’s happening at Treasure Valley Community College is in line with trends from across the state, where enrollment at community colleges has declined precipitously.

Lee said that if the pace of enrollment doesn’t pick up, the college will have to consider furloughing staff.

There is consensus among top administrators that Covid is to blame for the decline in enrollment.

“We don’t see anything other than what happened to us when we had to shrink class sizes,” Lee said, referring to social distancing measures that the college has taken to offer on-campus learning.

Even in large classrooms with auditorium seating, Covid restrictions mean that every other row is blocked off, with more seats blocked off at intervals in the rows that do have students. That means a room that could normally hold 70 learners now holds only 20.

There are other restrictions as well.

“Instructors can’t walk up and down the aisles, and students can’t pass papers,” said Lee.

These limitations put the college in a bind. Surveys conducted by the college in spring and summer of 2020 showed that students strongly preferred to learn in class on campus, but the reality is that few of them can due to the small class sizes.

Lee clarified that the college has not become any more selective.

”We’re open door,” she said.

But spots in the in-person classes outside of key technical areas like aviation and nursing were first come, first served. Anyone unable to register for an in-person class is deferred to an online model.

For students who were excited about coming to college in part because of extracurricular activities which are no longer taking place, being forced into online classes can be a significant deterrent.

“I think we’re seeing this evolution in change and choice that Covid has brought about,

where (students think) ‘If I’m going to take a Zoom class, I’m just gonna look around and see any school I can take a Zoom class from,” said Lee. “So we’re trying to look around and reimagine or recapture what it means to be a brand new student at a community college.”

Interestingly, the trend towards fewer enrollments is much less pronounced at four-year universities. According to the state Higher Education Coordinating Commission, Oregon State University even experienced a 1% increase in enrollment.

Lee said that those numbers, combined with the strong re-enrollment numbers at Treasure Valley Community College from students who attended last year, show that traditional college-age students are still interested in having a traditional college experience.

She sees an opportunity for growth at TVCC, perhaps even a surge of enrollments, if the college can successfully reach out to non-traditional students, including English as a Second Language Learners, members of the workforce, and parents. They may have some college education but decided in the past that college wasn’t a good fit.

“We systemically need to embed more supports for all students, but especially first-generation students and especially our students who come from minority populations,” said Lee.

Among supports the college has designed for such learners is new financial aid through the CARES act, which consists of help for costs like childcare and transportation. Left unpaid, these costs can become impediments to a student’s ability to participate in school, Lee said.

Although Lee said that an exact breakdown of drops in enrollment by ethnicity at TVCC is not yet available, nationwide data suggests that Hispanic students, who normally make up a quarter of the college population, face more barriers to staying in school during the pandemic than their white peers.

According to data from the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center, Latino enrollment at public two-year colleges saw a 10.6% drop this year, as compared to a 1.4% increase the year before.

In an attempt to attract new students, TVCC will offer one free course in any subject to all qualified and interested learners through its Try Out TVCC program. Classes start on Jan. 4th, and enrollment is open until the following day.

News tip? Contact reporter Liliana Frankel at [email protected] or 267-981-5577.

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