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Enrollment at CWC still lags despite past growth factors

Mar 14, 2017 By Katie Roenigk, Staff Writer

The historical increase in community college enrollment as a result of high unemployment is not taking place during the current economic bust in Wyoming.

Spring enrollment totals continue to lag behind last year's numbers at Central Wyoming College.

By the end of February, the head count for spring had almost reached 1,560 students - only 81 percent of CWC's goal for the semester and a decrease of almost 15 percent when compared to the same time last year.

Based on the classes those students signed up for, full-time equivalent enrollment was set at almost 1,065 - only 86 percent of CWC's goal and a decrease of about 10 percent compared to last year at the same time.

In a Feb. 27 e-mail to staff, institutional effectiveness director Louisa Hunker noted that the totals had not changed much over the past week.

"So these numbers are likely close to our final enrollment numbers," she wrote.

'Persistence'

She added that the statistics for new, first-time-in-college students is "about the same" as last year, but persistence of degree-seeking students from fall to spring and summer is about 5 percent worse than it was last year.

Almost 140 students had enrolled for summer 2017 classes by the end of February, for a full-time equivalent of about 58.

This is the first year CWC has started summer enrollments so early, so it's not possible to compare the numbers to last year's totals.

Workforce training

Workforce and community education enrollments have been down, too. In a report last month to the CWC Board of Trustees, workforce and community education dean Lynne McAuliffe said workforce and non-credit offerings in Riverton fell by 24 percent during the 2015-2016 school year, in part due to a decline in participation in energy safety courses.

From 100 to zero

During the prior year, McAuliffe said, 100 people enrolled in energy safety classes.

For 2015-2016 the number was zero.

"The rapid demise of coal production, and oil and gas, hit fast and dramatically," McAuliffe wrote.

She talked about the "bust" in the mineral extraction industries that has impacted the local economy since 2014. By 2015, she said Fremont County unemployment hit a high of 9 percent.

Historically, McAuliffe continued, colleges experience an increase in enrollment as a result of high unemployment. That did not happen during the current bust, however.

"The colleges in Wyoming are not experiencing that typical effect," McAuliffe wrote. "CWC seems to have some of the highest unemployment numbers in the state, and yet still has some of the largest declining enrollments."

Extended benefits

She suggested several factors contributing to the lack of enrollments. For example, extended unemployment payments have allowed individuals to continue to "wait out" the bust cycle, McAuliffe said.

"You have some very high-income people ... riding on the (unemployment) benefits," she said.

Others who are out of work may believe the bust cycle will be shorter-term and that they will have their jobs back soon, McAuliffe said, and many simply don't have the financial resources to attend college or community education courses.

Another possibility is that alternative careers in the less-diverse Wyoming economy are not as high-paying as jobs in the extraction industries, so workers see no incentive to re-train for employment in another sector.

"We don't have a lot of options for young people accustomed to making $60,000-$100,000 a year," McAuliffe said. "Their enthusiasm about coming back and going to school to retrain ... in a new career that's going to pay $30,000-$40,000 (is low)."

Outreach centers

Meanwhile, McAuliffe said, enrollments at CWC's outreach centers is growing.

"That's unusual when you consider the overall college (enrollments) being down significantly," she said.

The 2015-2016 school year saw a 10 percent increase in for-credit enrollments and a 12 percent increase in non-credit enrollments at outreach centers, and CWC's Start-Up Intensive for new business owners continues to fill twice a year. By the end of 2016, McAuliffe said more than 80 people had graduated from the 10-week, boot-camp-style program, with a 75 percent success rate for those still in business one to three years later.

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