Charlotte Underwood/Staff Writer
College enrollment is holding steady in the Tri-County area, with some area colleges showing increases and others showing decreases in the number of students attending classes this year, according to local college officials.
“Enrollment is really an up and down situation,” explained Union College’s Vice President for Enrollment Jerry Jackson. He explained that there are a number of factors that could affect enrollment numbers and that those factors change often, as well.
“Financial aid is a good example of one of those ever-changing pictures,” Jackson said, explaining that state financial aid had run out quicker this year than in his previous eight years of experience at the college.
“More people are enrolling overall in the state and more people are being diligent and filing their financial aid forms early,” Jackson said, explaining this caused the funds to be depleted quicker. In cases such as this, the college tries to make up the difference.
“We are in upwards of $6 million that we are funding in financial aid; you have to do everything you can to make college affordable to your students but also keep a balanced budget,” Jackson said.
Located in Barbourville, Union College’s enrollment numbers are holding their own, according to Jackson who said the numbers were “relative to where they were supposed to be.”
Last year, Union College had 725 undergraduate students. For this year, enrollment is currently at 711, with a final enrollment period coming up in October. Jackson said the college had a great year as far as recruiting went and that new student numbers were on the rise.
“We project that after that enrollment period, we will come in almost even with last year’s numbers,” Jackson said, adding that it was the largest freshman class that he had seen in a while, which did show growth in new students attending college. He explained that this was par on course for the college’s plans.
“Our goal is not to double our numbers but to grow steady, which we are doing,” Jackson said, adding that the college had shown growth in the “stem areas of study,” including science, technology and math.
“Our stem areas are showing increases, especially in natural sciences such as biology and chemistry,” Jackson said.
These increases seem to be a combination of more interest in these fields as the world continues to grow technologically, but it also helped that the college was able to offer more financial aid to students in the form of additional scholarships made possible by a grant from the National Science Foundation.
“It’s hard to tell just exactly what affects growth sometimes, but it is mostly likely a combination of factors,” Jackson said.
He added that Union College was holding its own as far as their undergraduate students went.
Other schools such as the University of the Cumberlands in Williamsburg show a spike in growth in both undergraduate and graduate numbers.
At present, the University of the Cumberlands has 4,062 students enrolled, showing an increase of 505 students from last year’s number of 3,785. This is roughly a 14-percent increase in enrollment, according to Vice President for Academic Affairs Larry Cockrum. This breaks down to a six percent increase in undergraduate studies and a 23 percent increase in graduate studies. Cockrum said the school projects to have 4,400 to 4,500 students after the final October enrollment period. As of Sept. 13, the school had 1,852 undergraduate students and 2,210 graduate students.
“Our biggest numbers of increase are on the graduate side,” Cockrum said, explaining that the university’s “niche” was education studies for graduate students.
“We have developed a number of programs that have added to our growth,” Cockrum said, adding that growth was also showing in the medical and technological fields.
The physician’s assistant program at Cumberland has continued to grow, as has doctorates in education and clinical psychology.
“We’re trying to pick what fits the mission of the school and what can lead a student to employment,” Cockrum said, adding that he projected even more growth after the school introduced its masters program in information security systems.
“I think it will be a wide-open field; basically anything with white coats (medical field) or clicks (technological field) grows,” Cockrum said.
While Jackson said he could not say the economy had a definite impact on enrollment numbers, it did make one “wonder.”
Cockrum said economies did seem to affect whether or not people went back to school.
“Historically in down economies, more people go back to school, so it does seem to be a factor,” Cockrum said.
Somerset Community College in Laurel County shows the other side of the spectrum with about a 10 percent decrease in enrollment over last year’s numbers, according to Director of Advancement Cindy Clouse. Though Clouse said she could not provide current enrollment numbers until spring of 2013, the college had 10,028 students enrolled last year, with about 2,500 of those students attending school in Laurel County. Clouse said the school was researching the cause of the enrollment decrease.
“We think some of it is because of changes in the federal financial aid regulations, but we also believe the economy is picking up some and that people are choosing to go back to work rather than school,” Clouse said. Clouse said that Somerset Community College had shown growth over the past several years and that this was the first year of recent with a decrease.
Of the various programs the school offers, health care remains one of the school’s strongest areas of enrollment
Even though overall the school has seen a decrease, the online courses show the least amount of decrease in enrollment numbers, showing a trend towards technology.
“More students are taking online courses than are attending classes in the traditional sense; it is the wave of the future and you either hop on it or get left behind,” Clouse said.