According to Pierce College Chancellor, Dr. Michele Johnson, the number of Running Start students at Pierce College has been increasing since the program was brought to the district, but after concerns of COVID-19 temporarily closed the college to in-person learning, the increase has come to a halt.
Pierce College isn’t alone in seeing a drop in enrollment during the pandemic. According to the National Student Clearinghouse, enrollment has gone down 9.5% at more than 1,000 two-year colleges in the U.S. While enrollment and tuition are one of the largest ways colleges obtain funding, Pierce College’s Vice President of Student Learning and Student Success, Dr. Matthew Campbell, believes Pierce’s money management has kept the college out of financial trouble.
“We’ve been, I would say, a fiscally conservative institution where we’ve used our money very well. When we get into a crisis mode, like we’re in right now, we’ve been able to pull from our reserves to maintain levels of service. I don’t feel like we’ve had major impacts with regard to services we provide to students or having to lay a lot of people off,” said Campbell.
According to Campbell, the stagnation in Running Start enrollment is a different trend from other colleges, which have seen a larger increase since the beginning of the pandemic. Campbell believes Pierce College’s enrollment has remained the same because of the college’s high number of Running Start students already enrolled.
Johnson believes the increase of Running Start students at other colleges indicates that K-12 education wasn’t prepared for online learning like colleges were.
“We had Running Start students who took at least one online course so we know that there are many high school students who preferred to do Running Start because our colleges were better prepared to deliver online learning than the K-12 system was,” said Johnson.
Currently, Pierce College staff is preparing for fall enrollment. The college is hoping to have more students enroll in the fall and to open for on-campus learning winter quarter, depending on COVID-19 cases and state regulations. As time has passed, Pierce’s stagnation in enrollment has begun to even out, which Campbell sees as an indication that enrollments will be going back up.
“In my 43 years, I’ve never had to make more decisions quickly with so little information that was going to change literally by the hour. We were meeting every day, twice a day, at the beginning as an executive team and incident command team,” said Johnson.
While two-year colleges nationwide were affected by low enrollment, Pierce was able to negate some of its worst effects through the use of reserves and federal funding. Now, Pierce’s staff prepare to step into in-person learning while trying to get students to follow.
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