LUMBERTON — Robeson Community College’s declining enrollment mirrors the national trend for community colleges, according to its president.
“Traditionally if the economy is struggling your student enrollment is up,” Pamela Hilbert said. “But when the economy is better, you lose students who find jobs and choose not to finish their education.”
On Monday, during a meeting of RCC trustees, the college’s interim vice president of Instruction and Support Services, Bill Mauney, reported a slight decrease in this year’s fall enrollment compared with last year. He told the board that there were just under 1,600 students registered for classes, but emphasized that this number would change as class registration — including registration for eight- and 12-week classes that begin later in the semester — continues. Also, he said that enrollment will change as students who do not qualify for financial aid or do not complete the payment process are purged from the rolls.
“The number I give you today will not be the same as I give you tomorrow, in September, or in October,” Mauney told the trustees.
As of 5 p.m. Wednesday, RCC’s student enrollment was 1,869. Last year, on the first day fall semester classes were held, RCC enrollment was 1,945 students.
Hilbert said that students drop out of RCC and other community colleges for various reasons. She said that students leaving RCC could be the result of the student choosing to attend another college or because they don’t have sufficient grant money.
“Transportation and child care are also historically a challenge for our adult students who are underemployed,” said Hilbert.
According to Hilbert, RCC has seen its enrollment drop for two consecutive years. It corresponds, she said, with the time that RCC began to no longer offer students financial assistance under a federal program.
“We stopped offering the Federal Student Loan Program because of the high default rate,” Hilbert said. “A high default rate could have negatively impacted our Pell Grant eligibility.”
While enrollment is shaky in some areas, Hilbert said Thursday that RCC is experiencing good participation in several of its course offerings. Included in thriving RCC programs are:
— Welding. This new program’s class for first year students is already full, according to Hilbert.
— Basic Law Enforcement Training. Daytime classes are doing well with enrollment. Evening classes will start later in the semester.
— Criminal Justice. Many of the classes can be taken online. Hilbert said this is an advantage for employed students.
— Culinary Arts. Classes are almost full, and according to Hilbert, there is a lot of student interest in the new baking and pastry arts program.
— Accounting. This new program still has room for additional students, Hilbert said.
Bob Shiles can be reached at 910-416-5165.