Enrollment dips at Merced College

08/26/2014 8:39 PM

08/26/2014 8:47 PM

Early estimates show that enrollment is down at Merced College, which is back in session this month, but leaders at the school say the numbers are not insurmountable.

As of last Wednesday, the enrollment is down by 2.94 percent with a head count of 10,221, or about 310 fewer students than last year at this time, according to numbers from the college. The official census is scheduled for Tuesday and is what determines how much money comes in from the state.

Mary K. Gilliland, the vice president of instruction, said the dip could be remedied this year. “The bottom line is it’s a very small number,” she said. “We have some good strategies in place to bring those numbers back up, so I think we’re going to be fine.”

The college has some plans to try to level out enrollment by mid-semester, she said, or possibly push it above last year’s count by the end of the semester. A number of factors are likely affecting enrollment numbers.

Gilliland said it’s common for students to procrastinate with enrollment and try to pick up classes in the first week. So, adding nine-week courses, which are half as long as a normal course and start later, could increase enrollment.

The college is also experiencing a shortage of part-time professors, Gilliland said, which compounds the dip in enrollment. The shortages are most obvious in instructors for science and math, but also include English classes. “There are a lot things we can do as a strategy to reach out and bring in good, qualified instructors,” she said.

Other colleges and universities in the area, some of which can pay higher wages, likely draw instructors from outside the area’s talent pool, she said.

Changes to federal financial aid regulations could also be a factor, she said. The funding no longer covers students who repeat a course they’ve already passed that is not required for transfer to a four-year school.

Though enrollment may be a new challenge this year, Merced College has now been free of another challenge for more than a year. The Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges reaffirmed the college’s full accreditation status without sanction in July, a yearlong clean bill of health.

The standards that the college is charged with meeting were set in 2002, which caused many schools to face warnings. In recent years, the commission has put campuses in Modesto, Redding and San Jose on the mid-level “probation” status. It has placed schools in Berkeley, Oakland and Fresno, as well as Merced College, on the low-level “warning” status.

Robin Shepard, a spokesman for the school, said being free of the warning will allow Merced College to prepare its strategic plan. “Being off of the sanction cycle has given us some extra room where we can do the kind of planning that supports accreditation,” he said.

The plan will come before the board of trustees in the coming months.

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