Student enrollment declines

By James Hearne

As Whatcom Community College gets underway for the new academic year, administrators are dealing with a sobering fact: student enrollment has taken a dip.

“We have an enrollment drop that is significant,” said Ed Harri, the dean for instruction. He said enrollment is down by about 5 to 9 percent, compared to the same period last year. The exact figure will not be known until all the full-time equivalents have been counted. The fill rate, the rate of classes being filled to their capacity, has also seen a slight decrease.

Why is enrollment down?  “Everyone is trying to answer that question,” Harri said. The situation is not unique to Whatcom, he added

“A number of community colleges throughout Washington state have seen a similar drop-off in enrollment,” he said, adding that a combination of factors affect enrollment, from employment opportunities to eligibility for financial aid.

The low enrollment rate exacerbates the problems of a tight budget, as much of the school’s operating budget stems from excess enrollment. Less than half of the college’s budget comes from the state.

Students should not expect to see any big changes, however. “For the most part I don’t think the impact on students will be that big,” Harri said. “It should be about the same number of students per section. If we had a 20 percent drop-off in enrollment, then people would definitely notice. There would be a lot less people around.”

Class cancellation should not be too much of an issue, either. “Enrollment was down last year as well, and we cancelled some classes and sections then. Also, some of the classes last summer quarter were under enrolled, so we cancelled them as well.” This quarter, class cancellations have not really been an issue, he said.

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