When county commissioners interviewed candidates for a position on the Piedmont Community College Board of Trustees earlier this month, questions focused, in part, on declining enrollment.
Commissioner Ray Jeffers asked both candidates, James Woody and Joel Adler, what they would do to address lower enrollment numbers at the college.
But enrollment figures from the college actually show growth in recent years.
Enrollment spiked at PCC in the 2009-10 academic year, when more than 3,200 students took classes at the college. Most of those students – nearly 2,900 – were enrolled in curriculum classes, those classes designed to end with college degrees. The remainder of the students were taking continuing education courses.
Enrollment dropped each year after that until this past year, the first full year under President Pamela Senegal.
Student enrollment numbers are important, Senegal says, because colleges receive state funding based, in part, on student numbers.
Woody and Adler, in their responses to county commissioners, noted that enrollment tends to spike following an economic downturn. The recession, which began in 2007 and peaked in 2008, showed that to be true. Enrollment rose from 2,813 in the 2007-08 academic year, to 2,977 in 2008-09, before reaching its high point with the 2009-10 academic year.
Each year after that, from 2010 to 2017 saw decreases in enrollment. Student numbers reached their lowest point in the 20017-18 academic year, when just 1,553 students took courses at the college.
Data for the fall term this year is not complete because many continuing education courses are taught throughout the year and begin at different times on the calendar.
But school officials say the number of curriculum students continue to rise. In the fall semester of 2017, there were just 481 students enrolled in curriculum courses at PCC. That number dropped to 446 last fall. Unofficial data from the college for the fall of 2019 shows 484 students enrolled in curriculum classes at PCC.
Senegal says a number of efforts are responsible for increasing those numbers, including the creation of Person Early College – a program for high school students who take a mix of high school and college classes on the PCC campus. The Career and College Promise program, which also allows high school students to enroll in both high school and college campuses means more students are eligible to attend PCC even if they haven’t already graduated from high school.
Senegal says the college is doing a better job of promoting the dual enrollment programs to students and parents.
“They are realizing that they can save a lot of money by getting some of these courses out of the way while they are still in high school and if their goal is to go to a four-year university, they can still do that, but it will cost them a lot less money. It’s starting to make an impression,” Senegal said.
The college has also signed agreements with three University of North Carolina system universities that guarantee PCC graduates a seat in those schools once they complete their associates degrees. Senegal said she hopes to announce more reciprocity agreements in the future.
And, Senegal said, a more robust outreach program in the community has PCC officials visiting local public and charter schools and home school associations to explain the offerings at the community college.
Finally, Senegal says the college is trying to refine its curriculum courses to offer degrees in areas where there is high demand, while jettisoning programs that no longer draw sufficient interest from students and employers.