Community college enrollment lowest in decades

Volunteer State Community College
Posted at 4:53 PM, Apr 05, 2022
and last updated 2022-04-06 13:07:51-04

GALLATIN, Tenn. (WTVF) — Enrollment at community colleges is the lowest it’s been since 2001, according to state data.

Community colleges in Tennessee have 14,403 fewer students on campus compared to two years ago. Enrollment has declined 16% since 2019.

Tennessee Board of Regents graphic

Because it's hitting bottom lines, the issue was discussed at a board of regents meeting.

“We’ve had dips before; we manage it to the best of our ability, but at some point you do have to step in and make some drastic decisions,” said Dr. Flora Tydings, a chancellor on the board.

At Volunteer State Community College campuses, 33 jobs were eliminated. They issued the following statement:

"Vol State eliminated 33 positions from its four campus locations across an 11 county service area due to enrollment-related downsizing. Vol State employs more than 800 full and part-time employees. From the overall number of 33 positions eliminated from four campus locations, 20 of those were staff members. The eliminated positions spanned all employment groups including executive/administrative, faculty and staff.

There are no further employment-based actions planned to offset the enrollment drop. During the 2019 academic year, enrollment was at an all-time high of over 9,000 students. This number has gradually decreased over time with the College being down roughly 13% this past year. As a campus community, we are redoubling our recruiting efforts to make sure our communities know that we are here to help them. We are working hard to meet our students' needs and provide them with the programs, services, support and classes they need in the formats they want so that they can reach their goals."

Other community colleges have offered buyouts or early retirement according to the Tennessee Board of Regents spokesperson Rick Locker. He said pandemic-related issues caused fewer students to enroll.

"Last fall, omicron was prevalent across the state," Locker said, "And most local governments were recommending measures to deal with that."

For the College of Applied Technologies, however, the opposite appeared to be true. They've seen an increase in enrollments due to dual enrollment programs at local high schools.

"It’s up 34%," said Locker. He would love to see that happen at community colleges too.

"We’re hoping it bounces back," Locker said.