WALLA WALLA - Following several years of rising enrollment, Walla Walla Community College is seeing fewer students enrolling at its campuses.
WWCC Director of Admissions/Registrar Carlos Delgadillo said the downturn in enrollment began last year, and followed what had been a steady, continuous rise in enrollment figures.
Delgadillo's enrollment reports to the Board of Trustees for January and February reflect the drops for fall and winter quarters. Enrollment was down 3.3 percent at the end of the fall quarter compared to last year, while winter enrollment was down about 7 percent compared to last year.
The economic hits of the last few years initially drew students to community colleges for affordable education, to specialize in emerging fields or for worker retraining.
The recent drop in enrollment follows a statewide trend. The Washington State Board for Community & Technical Colleges reported a 4 percent drop in enrollment early into the fall quarter statewide. Final fall quarter enrollment figures from the state are pending.
Although it is not clear what is driving the trend, a series of tuition increases the last two years may have pushed some students away.
"It's hard to put your finger on any one thing," Delgadillo said. "I would imagine that tuition increases makes it harder for students to come to school."
Students enrolling at Walla Walla Community College and other state technical and community colleges saw tuition increase 14 percent over the last two years. In Walla Walla several fees related to programs and general enrollment have also increased, while some new fees have been introduced.
The cost to attend WWCC full-time this year, or for three quarters with a full schedule, is about $3,527 for in-state students.
Delgadillo said the state's budget cuts could also be driving the trend. Cuts to funding have meant fewer employees, including instructors, which then leads to fewer classes and services for students.
Enrollment in other WWCC programs, such as Running Start and Alternative Education Program, was also down. Running Start enrollment is believed to have been hit by a new law that requires students to pay tuition for taking additional classes.
Dropping enrollment over too long can mean funding problems for state schools.
"We're always worried when enrollment goes down," he said. He noted that the decline first began about this time last year.
"I can't remember where the peak was, but we're definitely on the downhill side of the trend," he said.
Yet some WWCC programs are seeing higher participation this year. Distance learning at sites off campus, including Garrison Night School, the Farm Labor Homes, St. Patrick Catholic Church and Tyson Foods, has seen enrollment grow.