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Community college enrollment drops

January 11, 2019

CHARLESTON — T he number of students enrolled in West Virginia’s public community colleges dropped to about 23,900 last academic year, down 9 percent from the prior academic year and 25 percent over the past five years.

Some more recent figures are available, and while they aren’t directly comparable to the 2017-18 academic year figures — comparable figures are expected later — they suggest the decline is continuing.

The report of the 2017-18 academic year figures to lawmakers Monday comes as Senate President Mitch Carmichael, R-Jackson, is planning to again push a free community college bill in this year’s regular legislative session.

Last year, the state Senate unanimously passed such a bill, but the House of Delegates never took it up. Former House Education Committee Chairman Paul Espinosa, R-Jefferson, never put it on any of his committee’s meeting agendas.

The state Community and Technical College System hasn’t done a study on why West Virginia’s community college enrollment is dropping, but officials Monday suggested multiple anecdotal reasons.

Chris Treadway, senior director of research and policy for the CTCS plus the state Higher Education Policy Commission, which oversees the four-year schools, said the annual headcount enrollment figures count the total number of unique students enrolled over an academic year, including those who stayed both semesters or only parts.

He said the figures also include students pursuing traditional credits and certificates plus those in workforce training programs that aren’t considered certificate programs.

New River Community and Technical College, which has campuses in Lewisburg, Princeton, Summersville and near Beckley, saw the steepest enrollment drop from the 2016-17 to the 2017-18 academic year: 27 percent.

It also saw the steepest plummet over the past five years, losing over half its students to drop to 1,700. A new president, Bonny Copenhaver, is starting there this year.

BridgeValley Community and Technical College saw the second biggest single-year drop in 2017-18: 25 percent, second only to New River and as large as what the state’s public community colleges lost, on average, over the past five years combined.

BridgeValley’s own five-year loss was 38 percent, dropping to 2,200 from the 3,600 that Bridgemont and Kanawha Valley community colleges had in combined enrollment before the two formed BridgeValley.

The current school has campuses in Montgomery and South Charleston, and may move much of its South Charleston presence to Charleston’s West Side.

In 2017, the school agreed to pay nearly $1.7 million to the West Virginia Regional Technology Park in South Charleston after the Tech Park alleged the school hadn’t paid millions of dollars in rent for more than two years.

The Charleston Gazette-Mail reported the dispute, including when the Tech Park’s executive director sent the school an eviction letter saying it had 10 days to leave two buildings it occupied. The eviction didn’t ultimately take place.

Eastern West Virginia Community and Technical College saw a 14 percent one-year enrollment decrease, dropping its enrollment to 800, the lowest among the public community colleges.

All the other decreases from 2016-17 to 2017-18 were under 10 percent.

Mountwest Community and Technical College saw the only one-year enrollment increase, a 4 percent growth, and Blue Ridge Community and Technical College saw the only overall growth over the past five years, rising 5 percent. At 6,500 students, it reached more than twice the 3,000-student enrollments of Mountwest and West Virginia University at Parkersburg, the next two largest community colleges.

Reach Ryan Quinn at ryan.quinn@wvgazettemail.com, facebook.com/ryanedwinquinn, 304-348-1254 or follow @RyanEQuinn on Twitter.

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