DAYTON, Ohio (WDTN) – National trends have shown a steady decline in the college enrollment around the country. Colleges such as Sinclair Community College, Wright State University, and others have had to adjust to changing local and national economic factors.
According to The Ohio Department of Higher Education, during 2012 to 2017, community colleges and universities in Ohio saw student enrollment drop 5% overall.
Community Colleges have been affected the most. Community colleges in Ohio as a whole saw an 11% decline in headcount from the same years of 2012 to 2017.
Sinclair Vice President for Advancement Adam Murka says that a series of economic factors all contribute to enrollment trends. He emphasized that those numbers are slightly skewed because of recent unemployment trends over the last decade.
“The number one thing to understand about community college enrollment is that it is absolutely tied to local unemployment,” said Murka. “In 2010 when those numbers were tracked, we were in the middle of The Great Recession. It was 10-12% unemployment. Students were coming here as quickly as they could. We were re-purposing everything on campus we possibly could to turn it into a classroom.”
Since 2010, economic and technological advancements have changed the type of student attending community college as well. More students are becoming “hybrid” students, which are students enrolled in online classes, night classes, and in-person classes as well.
Financial concerns have also risen in the national consciousness as well. Colleges have seen more students and parents with skepticism about the cost of college degrees and the risks associated with student debt.
One program that colleges have expanded over the last decade is the College Credit Plus program. The program incentivizes high school students to begin taking college-level courses during high school in order to receive college credits. These programs have allowed students to graduate college at a quicker pace as well as at a cheaper cost.
Murka said that financial incentives like this at Sinclair have grown from 700 students in 2010 to over 7,000 in recent years.
“What they’re doing is they’re taking any avenue they can; be it a traditional academic environment, online, or College Credit Plus to get them where they want to go as fast as they possibly can,” said Murka.
Sinclair has seen the largest drop in headcount during the record period of 2012 to 2017, dropping 22% while Wright State University dropped 4%. When reached for a comment on the schools enrollment numbers, Wright State officials declined to comment.
Several local colleges saw an increased headcount during this recorded period. Clark State Community College saw a 3% increase while Edison State Community College saw a 5% increase.
Sinclair’s Adam Murka emphasized that although overall enrollment numbers have declined over the decade, enrollment has steadily increased each year since 2015 and the student graduation rate has reached over 90%.
“Our student completion is way higher than it used to be,” said Murka. “It was 1,500 in 2005 and I think this most recent class had about 7,000 credentials earned. Students are getting more credentials, they’re getting them faster, which means we’re getting students out of Sinclair and out to the work world. And again, 90% of those students stay here in the Miami Valley.”
As colleges around the country face similar trends, each school must take an approach that matches the needs of its community. Murka said that he feels confident in Sinclair’s ability to continue contributing to the Miami Valley regardless of the area’s economic circumstances.
“Our challenge,” Murka said, “is to make sure we keep our resources and quality up so that when the economy does reset we’re here for people when they need us.”