Fall enrollment at Southwest Texas Junior College was 5,468, a 7.6% decrease over last fall.
In a report to the SWTJC board at its regular monthly meeting Thursday (Sept. 19), SWTJC Vice President of Student Affairs Dr. Blaine Bennett outlined several factors he believes contributed to this year's decline.
"First off, let me say that in my new position this is my first time to make an enrollment report and I'm certainly not thrilled to tell you we've lost enrollment this fall," Bennett said. "Historically, a good job market has translated into lower college enrollment and the opportunities across the region because of the Eagle Ford Shale are certainly a factor across the region."
Bennett told the board that Laredo Community College had a 6.5% decrease in enrollment this fall, Costal Bend Community College in Beeville was down 7% and Victoria College dropped 3% this fall.
Not allowing any student to register after classes began, a significant departure from previous years, was another factor in this year's decline, Bennett told the board.
"We started registration on April 1, the earliest we have ever started, in hopes of getting students already enrolled in spring classes to sign up for the fall and that worked well," Bennett said. "Then we looked at data on past students registering after classes had started and found that those students hadn't been very successful. So we stuck to our guns and didn't register anyone after classes started on Aug. 26."
While enrollment was down 7.6%, the drop in contact hours was only 6%, according to Bennett. "The students we have enrolled this fall are taking more hours," Bennett said. "Our state funding is based on contact hours so this is a good thing."
In his president's report, SWTJC President Dr. Hector Gonzales said that the downward trend in enrollment seems to be nationwide.
"I just returned from a symposium hosted by the Aspen Institute in Maryland," Gonzales said. "All of the top 10 community colleges from the last two years, as well as Achieving the Dream leader colleges, were in attendance. Talking to my peers from all across the country enrollment was at best flat and many were down 7 to 8%."
In other matters at Thursday's meeting, the board officially adopted a tax rate of 13 cents per $100 valuation and approved renewal of lease agreements with Sul Ross State University – Rio Grande College.
The board was also updated on the building project currently underway in Del Rio. According to SWTJC Vice President of Administrative Services Joe Barker, the project is progressing smoothly.
"We are on schedule to have the new administration building complete by the Christmas break and the classroom building should be ready by spring break 2014," Barker said.
Trustees also heard a report on the wildlife management program from program director Bob Zaiglin.
According to Zaiglin, there are currently 61 students in the program which offers a one-year certificate and a two-year Associate of Applied Science Degree.
"Most of our students are from out of district. We have students from Florida and Louisiana and 14 of our students are women," Zaiglin said.
Zaiglin also listed the establishment of a plant team two years ago, as one of his program's accomplishments. "We are the only junior college in the state to have a plant team and we have competed with and beat some of the top university teams in the state," Zaiglin said.
In addition, Zaiglin said his program continues to have outstanding support from area landowners, state agencies and businessmen.
"Through the generosity of landowners, our program has access to approximately 200,000 acres of land for field studies and internship opportunities," Zaiglin said. "We also have a strong advisory board that helps us direct the program so that it meets the needs of the industry."
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