WENATCHEE — Wenatchee Valley College’s enrollment numbers have fallen for the second year, but administrators are hoping to see a rebound with help from some federally funded high-tech classrooms and people looking to train for new jobs.
This fall’s current enrollment, at 2,358 full-time equivalent students, is a 14.5% drop from last fall. The college expects the numbers to climb to 2,415 students by the end of the quarter, which would improve the year-over-year drop to 12%.
Some programs, such as the Hispanic Orchard Employee Education Program, are just beginning, which means the school is still receiving new enrollees.
2020’s enrollment declined by 7.8% from fall 2019.
The decline this year translates to a roughly $400,000 impact for the fall quarter, which will be covered by federal stimulus money, said Libby Siebens, a WVC spokesperson. WVC has additional funding to cover enrollment drops in future quarters as well, Siebens said.
Running Start enrollment has also declined — 15.1% from last fall. This decline comes after enrollment increased 14.8% last fall from 2019. Running Start allows high school juniors and seniors to take college courses for credit. The college attributes part of the shift to students opting for the high school experience they missed while classes were remote.
“A lot of students have missed out on that experience of being in-person, and are choosing to go back to the high schools,” Siebens said.
Running Start enrollment overall is down, but it varies by school district. Eastmont, for instance, has 24 fewer students participating in the program this year, while the Wenatchee School District has an increase of 23 students from last year, according to the districts’ enrollment data.
WVC’s Omak and Wenatchee campuses both have seen a decline in enrollment, though Siebens said it’s difficult to quantify the drop by campus. Since most classes remain online, a student enrolled at the Omak campus could take a course from a professor at the Wenatchee campus, and vice versa.
The declining enrollment college-wide is the result of several factors, she said, ranging from pure logistics to the economy.
Around 70% of classes are still completely online while others are either optionally online or hybrid. With some students unable to access Wi-Fi or other needed resources for coursework, Siebens said it can be a challenge.
This is especially a problem for students in Okanogan County, Siebens said. To try to combat this, the college offers free Wi-Fi access in college parking lots.
WVC plans to offer more in-person classes when the winter quarter starts in January, and “quite a bit more” in-person classes in the spring, Siebens said.
In addition to offering full in-person and hybrid classes as well as remote options, WVC offers a selection of classes referred to as “high-flex.” In these flexible classes, instructors are teaching students in person and remotely at the same time.
Before the pandemic, the college had six of these classrooms. Siebens said WVC spent a portion of grant money on upgrades, and now 40 classrooms in Wenatchee, Omak and the Nespelem government center are high-flex capable. Each renovation costs around $6,000.
“It’s not just a computer in the room or a camera and microphone type of thing, they’re all over the room,” Siebens said. “So, they’ve got microphones throughout the classroom. So that way, you can pick up group discussion, questions and answers. You can see the classroom from multiple angles, so it’s not just a person on the screen.”
Several of the “Zoom rooms” were set up prior to the pandemic to combat difficult driving conditions in the winter time, Siebens said.
The low unemployment rate also factors into lower enrollment, Siebens said. Generally, enrollment at community colleges mirrors the economy. With more employment opportunities, potential students instead opt to enter the labor market. But as the economy enters a downturn, people decide to go back to school. Siebens said this cycle typically lags by about a year.
“We still continue to be in a good position with the economy,” Siebens said. “And in general, and for community colleges in particular, more students come to us when we are in a recession.”
Recruiters at the college are getting more interest from prospective students.
“When the pandemic first started, some people put off going back to college because of ‘eh, we’ll wait until the pandemic is over,’” Siebens said. “And we still have people who are waiting, because they tell us that. But more and more, people are starting to reach out.”
The loss of six unvaccinated employees who failed to meet a state-mandated Oct. 18 vaccine deadline and were not accommodated had “minimal” impact on student instruction, Siebens said. Not all six of the employees were instructors, though she did not know how many were.
“It wasn’t overwhelming in one area,” Siebens said.