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Economy pushes PCC to historic enrollment increases

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studentsThe enrollment growth at Portland Community College has accelerated dramatically from winter term.

According to the college’s fourth-week spring enrollment report (the standard week for reporting enrollment figures), the college’s total headcount increased by 10.5 percent and 18.9 percent in full-time equivalent (FTE) year over year. The determinate for how much PCC gets from the state’s community college funding formula is the FTE numbers. It’s the seventh consecutive term of growth at the college and builds on 4.2-percent headcount and 11.4-percent FTE growth in winter term.

This has been the largest and most sustained increase in the number of students coming to PCC since the early part of the decade, just before the last recession took hold. This time, as enrollment has gone up big, it has boosted a surge in other critical areas that serve students.

“I have previously experienced an increase of enrollment during depressed economic times but I must say this time it has been much more dramatic than in past years,” said Veronica Garcia, dean of PCC Enrollment Services. “We have seen a tremendous increase in enrollment, however, the true impact has been in Financial Aid which as seen a 20 percent increase in students applying for financial aid to date and we are expecting this to increase further.”

Total headcount stands at 37,951 (an increase of 3,616 from spring 2008) for the term and 7,399 in FTE (increase of 1,178 from a year ago). The enrollment figures reflect the number of students taking classes for that specific term. These numbers cannot be added to other terms’ totals to get an overall enrollment, as many students who are enrolled throughout the year would be counted more than once. FTE is the total number of full- and part-time students added up to calculate one full-time student.

StudentsTo help cushion the fall, PCC’s Rapid Response Team is aiding local companies to help transition laid-off workers into new careers and help them take advantage of services. On the credit side, the college typically accommodates any growth by adding sections and classes where necessary. But even then, waiting lists are long and students needing core classes sometimes must do without until a future term. The $374 million bond measure passed last November will alleviate some crowding issues when classrooms and labs are built. The purchase of the Willamette Building at Southeast Second and Yamhill also will free up classroom space on campuses.

“We currently have posted two temporary positions that we will be hiring to help us handle the increase in workload,” Garcia added. “Unfortunately, these will not be permanent at this time due to our pending reduction in budget. With the increase to tuition and fees we have eliminated the $25 application fee, which has been a barrier to students. We hope this will assist them in moving through the online admission process much more quickly.”

The enrollment situation at PCC is not unique. Most of the Oregon’s 17 community colleges have seen dramatic enrollment increases due to the dire economic situation, including Central Oregon, which reached credit enrollment capacity in late March and closed its admissions process for the term. The college has seen close to a 30-percent surge in core credit classes.

“We aren’t in the same boat and will make keeping accessibility and affordability to our students our top priorities,” said PCC President Preston Pulliams. “Students know we are critical to help the state get out of this historic recession. But with our faculty and student services stretched to the limit, it makes it harder and harder to accommodate everyone who needs our help.”

At PCC, the biggest surge in students is happening at the college’s North Portland Cascade Campus where FTE has ballooned by 24.6 percent and total headcount by 24.8 percent this spring. The campus, which is home to the trades and industry, education, first responder, fire science and business administration programs, swelled by 15.9 percent in FTE and 13.9 percent in overall headcount in winter term.

EMT basic class

EMT basic class

Cascade Campus

The Emergency Services Department, which is based at Cascade, has grown by 39.7 percent this spring term. Other Cascade classes that are surging in students are developmental reading and writing (43.9 percent), English (41.1 percent), medical lab technology (41 percent), physics (27.4 percent), math (26.5 percent) and alcohol and drug counseling (25.7 percent). Enrollment has grown dramatically in the arts and profession division (29.5 percent) and liberal arts and mathematics (26.1 percent).

In the EMT basic class taught by Mark Reed at the Cascade Campus Emergency Services building, the room is wall-to-wall bodies with 29 full-time students training to eventually become a paramedic. “We are turning people away at our administration office,” Reed said. “We are that popular.”

Each of the comprehensive campuses offers complete paths to an associate’s degree at their respective locations. Here is how they fared:

Rock Creek Campus

This campus in Washington County, known for diesel service repair, welding, landscape technology and biology programs, experienced an increase of 21.0 percent in total FTE and 20.1 percent in total headcount.

Sylvania Campus

The Southwest Portland campus – the largest in PCC’s 1,500-square-mile district and housing such programs as machine manufacturing technology, early childhood education, sign language interpreter and automotive technology – experienced a 13.6 percent increase in student enrollment and 13.1 percent growth in FTE.

Southeast Center

The campus, which allows students to complete many of the courses toward a college transfer degree, saw its core enrollment increase by more than 22.6 percent spring term, on top of a more than 14 percent surge in the winter. The Southeast Center also offers aviation science courses, adult basic education courses to help students prepare for the GED, and english for speakers of other languages classes in addition to its core credit classes. Welding courses are offered at the Swan Island Training Center on Portland’s eastside to ease capacity issues at the welding program’s base at the Rock Creek Campus.

About James Hill

James G. Hill, an award-winning journalist and public relations writer, has been the Communications Specialist for the Office of Public Affairs at Portland Community College since November of 1999. A graduate of Portland State University, J... more »

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