California community college enrollment plummets to 30-year low, reports new report
Trent Nelson | Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
It’s one of the most popular college transfer programs in the nation. Now, some Wisconsin schools are struggling to keep students in it.
Crowded classes at some community colleges — often designed for working adults with a background in a technical field — are filling with low-income and minority students. And enrollment at community colleges in Wisconsin has plunged to its lowest level in a generation, according to the College Board’s 2016 Community College Student Survey.
As enrollment at Wisconsin community colleges has dropped, state officials have been scrambling to figure out what’s behind the decline. They estimate that between 2013 and 2015, the number of Wisconsin community college students dropped by about 1,900 — the lowest level on record and a significant drop from the 1,965 students enrolled five years earlier.
About half the students who dropped out are enrolled at four of the five biggest Wisconsin community colleges — UW-Marathon, UW-Stevens Point, UW-Whitewater and UW-Eau Claire.
The College Board’s 2016 Statewide Community College Student Survey found that about one out of four community college students in Wisconsin was enrolled at a public institution. But most of the state’s community colleges — which collectively enrolled about 2 million students in the fall of 2015 — had enrollment of less than half 1,000 students. UW-Whitewater was the only college with more than 5,000 students enrolled, while UW-Stevens Point enrolled more than 1,000 students per year.
“I don’t understand why we are seeing this massive decline in enrollment,” said UW-Eau Claire assistant director of enrollment operations Rob LeVander, noting that the college is in its 15th year at the university.
LeVander said there could be a number of factors behind the decline, including an impact of state funding on the availability of low-cost housing and a decline in high-paying jobs in the Milwaukee region. Wisconsin communities colleges also have been seeing a large increase in the number of students interested in an out-of-state transfer.
The most likely explanation, according to LeVander, is simply that more students are choosing public colleges. That fact was borne out by data from the Community College Student Survey that showed that more than a third of Wisconsin community college students were transferring