Enrollment Dips at Pa. Community Colleges

By Wills, Rick | Tribune-Review/Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, August 4, 2013 | Go to article overview

Enrollment Dips at Pa. Community Colleges


Wills, Rick, Tribune-Review/Pittsburgh Tribune-Review


Rochelle Knerr, a second-year nursing student at Community College of Allegheny County, says the number of students in most of her classes at the North Side campus usually drops by about half before a class ends.

"People drop out for all kinds of reasons, I guess," said Knerr, 19, of Arlington.

After peaking three years ago, enrollment is down at most of Pennsylvania's 14 community colleges -- in some cases far more than administrators anticipated.

There are many reasons for the decline, including shrinking birth rates that left fewer high school graduates, an economic rebound that takes students out of classrooms and into jobs and, to the surprise of some administrators, the Affordable Care Act.

"Some community college administrators say the health care law might be contributing to declining enrollment. That's not the intent of the law, obviously," said Kent Phillippe, associate vice president of the American Association of Community Colleges in Washington.

Community college enrollment trends are substantially different than enrollment in four-year colleges and universities, he said.

"When the economy is poor, there are large increases in the number of students in community colleges. As more jobs become available, enrollment drops," Phillippe said.

During the recession, Phillippe said, the nation's 1,130 community colleges attracted students who had lost work and needed retraining, along with students who planned to attend four-year schools but chose community colleges because of lower tuition.

The Affordable Care Act of 2010 allows young people to stay on their parents' heath insurance policies until they are 26. Before, college-age students had to be enrolled in 12 credit hours per semester to stay on their parents' insurance.

"That might be a reason people find it easier to drop out. It's now easier to have health care without being in school. I have heard some people talk about that," said Knerr, the mother of a small child. Knerr is on her mother's insurance policy.

Butler County Community College experienced a stark drop in enrollment, which surprised administrators. Enrollment declined last year by 9 percent -- far more than the 2 percent school officials anticipated, said James Hrabosky, vice president for administration and finance.

"We think the change in health care laws is one reason that enrollment fell more than we expected," Hrabosky said. …

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