Enrollment numbers up at city colleges

  • By Peter Sachs
  • Education reporter
  • October 13, 2008 @ 9:56 AM

More people are enrolling in classes at the City Colleges of Chicago this fall compared with last year, part of a nationwide trend of climbing community college enrollment as the economy sags.

The city colleges enrolled nearly 60,000 students  this fall, including more than 35,000 taking a full-time load of classes, according to figures sent to the Illinois Community College Board.

Those numbers are up 5 percent and 4 percent, respectively, over fall 2007 enrollment totals. The larger total enrollment number includes people who may only take one or two continuing education classes, as opposed to full-time students who carry a full course load. The figure for full-time students is used in a formula to calculate state funding grants for community colleges.

“We have found over may years that when there’s a downturn in the economy, there’s an upswing in the enrollments at community colleges,” says Steve Morse with the Illinois Community College Board, which compiles and audits enrollment figures statewide.

The change in enrollment varied widely among the seven city colleges.

Malcolm X and Kennedy-King colleges both saw double-digit growth, figures that district spokeswoman Elsa Tullos called “encouraging.”

About 1,200 more students enrolled this fall than last at Malcolm X, bringing its total enrollment to 7,200. That’s a 19-percent increase over last year, the biggest increase among the colleges.

Truman and Wright colleges have the largest student bodies, each with close to 12,000.

Two of the seven colleges saw the size of their student bodies dip this year, though.

Downtown’s Harold Washington has about 300 fewer students, a 3.4-percent drop.

At Olive-Harvey, total enrollment was down a fraction of a percent, but the number of full-time students there dipped 5 percent to about 2,600. Olive-Harvey is the smallest of the seven campuses in terms of enrollment.

Tullos said the enrollment decreases at those two colleges may have been due to changes that had some classes starting later than before. So when the enrollment count was done, classes hadn’t yet started and not all students would have registered.

“We anticipate that they’ll probably be up or flat at the end of the term,” Tullos says.

The overall increases could be due to people seeking retraining as unemployment rises and the economy weakens, says Morse with the state college board.

“When the economy gets pretty soft, people may get laid off or fearful of laid off and the community colleges seem to be the most accessible places for them to learn a new skill that would be more marketable,” Morse says.

During the last recession, in 2001 and 2002, Morse noted, some community colleges in the state saw all-time record enrollment numbers.

Since state tuition reimbursement grants are tied to the number of full-time students at the colleges, Tullos, it’s possible the district could get slightly more state money next year.

Tullos cautioned against drawing too many conclusions based on the fall enrollment numbers. Students can add and drop classes, affecting the totals by the end of the term.

“We have aggressive recruiting strategies and so at the end of the year we’ll take another look and adapt our strategies,” she says.

Peter Sachs is a Chicago-based journalist. He covers higher education for the Daily News.