Local community colleges consistent with declining statewide enrollment trends

Local community colleges like Texarkana College and the University of Arkansas Hope-Texarkana have seen declining enrollment over the past two years, which is consistent with trends for community colleges statewide.

Nationally, community college enrollment fell 15% between fall 2019 and fall 2021, according to the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center. Undergraduate enrollment in all post-secondary schools declined by 7.8% over the same period.

Community colleges in Arkansas saw a 13% decline in enrollment between 2019 and 2021, according to data from the state Department of Higher Education. The Texas Tribune reported that Texas community college enrollment dropped nearly 11% during the pandemic, via data from the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board.

Here’s how the numbers have tracked locally since fall 2019:

UAHT showed a drop of just over 19% in listings from fall 2019 to fall 2021, while TC’s decline is around 12.5%.

TAMU-T, a four-year institution, has been able to keep its enrollment relatively stable over the past two academic years.

UAHT Chancellor Dr Christine Holt said enrollment had been declining for years across the country, but the pandemic had exacerbated the trend.

“There are a myriad of reasons for declining enrollment in higher education,” Holt said. “For example, the number of students of traditional age, that is, people between the ages of 18 and 24, is decreasing. Even so, it should be noted that UAHT saw a slight increase in enrollment last fall at the Texarkana campus.

TC President Dr. Jason Smith said their decline started with the pandemic.

“There were just a lot of unknowns in the economy, and I think there was a lot of fear,” he said. “And we’ve seen it, not just here at TC, but across the state and nationally.

“Our students were making a choice: ‘Am I going to get a full-time job to help my family or do I go to school?’ And about 70% of our students are economically disadvantaged and looking to help their families. So it’s been difficult for us to bring these students here because they’re trying to help their families during this pandemic time.

While TAMU-T hasn’t seen this same decline in enrollment, president Dr. Emily Cutrer said lower numbers in any local college area aren’t good news for the community because this led to a decrease in the number of educated citizens.

“It’s also not good news for four-year college, because a lot of our students start out at community college and then transfer for a four-year degree,” she said. “So if the numbers are down in the certificate area or the transfer area, it may have implications down the road for our own registration.

“Although we are all in a kind of friendly competition, the best thing for a community is to see an increase in registrations in every sector.”

Cutrer said enrollment numbers are also negatively affected by a stigma against taking out loans to get a higher education.

“I think there’s a lot of discouragement among students,” she said. “You often hear that you don’t have to go to college and that you can get a good job without going to college. And there are a lot of opportunities for people, but from my perspective, I don’t think people look at their long-term goals. If you consider your long-term goals, you understand that higher education is an important investment.

UAHT is now strategically planning to increase enrollment by 3% for Fall 2022 in an effort to reverse this trend.

“We are reviewing our program offerings to ensure that we are offering innovative programs that are in high demand, such as our new solar and entrepreneurship-focused program,” Holt said.

Smith says TC recruits prospective students and non-traditional students by visiting them in their communities and explaining the benefits of earning a workforce degree or certificate.

“We meet them where they are,” he said. “We spend a lot more time reaching out to them. You’ll see us, and you’ve already started seeing us, reach out to them and bring our mobile enrollment center to where they are – wherever we can. We try to make sure we interact with those people and let them know how important it is to have that work certificate and/or degree.

Both Smith and Holt said they are confident in the abilities of their staff members and expect to recover from this slight decline in enrollment.

Cutrer said the institutions plan to collaborate to encourage more people to go to college.

“I think we all need to work together and make sure students know about the opportunities available to them through certificates and degrees, and that it’s never too late to go to school,” said Cutrer said.

College registration numbers

University of Arkansas Hope-Texarkana

Fall 2019 – 1477

Fall 2020 – 1261

Fall 2021 – 1191

Texarkana College

Fall 2019 – 4,087

Fall 2020 – 3,810

Fall 2021 – 3,573

Texas A&M University-Texarkana

Fall 2019 – 2053

Fall 2020 – 2161

Fall 2021 – 2078