After years of dividing school terms into quarters, Washington State Community College began its first semester Monday, a move that has resulted in lower enrollment at the beginning of this term, according to college administrators.
"It's our very first semester at Washington State, and it's a new day as we go from quarters to semesters, a move that's been anticipated for some time," college president Bradley Ebersole told the WSCC Board of Trustees Monday afternoon.
He said the school's computer systems seemed to have made it through the transition over the past weekend.
"But the switch has hit us in terms of enrollment," Ebersole added. "And we're not alone-other schools that changed to semesters are also experiencing a dip in enrollment."
Chief enrollment officer Amanda Herb said as of Monday the total "head count" enrollment was 1,700, and 1,234 of that figure were full-time students.
"That's about 77 percent of the head count and 74 percent of the full-time enrollment from the same time last year," she said, adding that last year's total enrollment was 2,211.
An estimated 175 more students are expected through dual enrollment and post secondary enrollment options from area high schools.
Herb said student enrollment at WSCC is also shifting from full-time to part-time.
"Of the current fall enrollment, 42 percent is part-time," she said, adding that, due to an improved economy, many laid off employees who have been taking full-time classes have returned to the workforce and are only able to enroll part-time.
Ebersole noted the local unemployment rate, at 9 percent in January, has now dropped to 6 percent, which is good economic news, but will take a bite out of WSCC's enrollment figures.
Herb said a WSCC mini semester, set to begin in October for students who may have decided to go to college too late to meet this month's registration deadline, could help beef up the enrollment.
"Financial aid is also taking a toll from us," Ebersole added. "The federal government is placing some limitations on that."
Emily Schuck, WSCC director of financial aid, said in the last couple of years the federal government has added 350 pages of new regulations for those receiving federal aid for college.
"They're trying to rein in students receiving federal aid-to get them to finish their education and to start working," she said.
Among the new regulations are limitations on the lifetime amount of Pell Grant funds available to students. Schuck said only six years worth of grant funding is now allowed, and students currently going to school on the federal grants were not "grandfathered in."
"We've determined that 77 students (attending WSCC on Pell funds) are at risk, and 14 have already used up their lifetime Pell Grant funding," she said. "And of the 77 at risk, 34 will lose Pell eligibility this year."
In addition to the grant limitations, Schuck said schools are required to track students' academic progress, considering factors like grade point averages and course completion rates. She said withdrawal from classes will also impact a student's federal aid eligibility.
Schuck said approximately 52 percent of WSCC students are receiving federal financial aid.
"And other community colleges are facing the same issue," she said.
Jess Raines, WSCC's chief financial officer and treasurer, said the drop in enrollment will have a $764,000 impact on the school's $14.5 million annual budget.
To address the loss the administration is considering retirement incentives and has asked employees to take voluntary furlough time off.
So far workers have volunteered about 47 days of furlough time, which translates to a savings of more than $8,200 for the budget.
"We've also asked each of our departmental units to cut their discretionary spending by at least 15 percent," Raines added. He said that would save approximately $190,000 a year.
In addition, the college has not replaced a number of staff positions left open by retirements or by people moving to other jobs. That could save another $176,000 annually.
"We recognize where we are, and how we want to deal with this," Ebersole said. "So we're watching the money as well as our enrollment."
The news wasn't all bad during Monday's trustees meeting, as a $33,000 grant was announced from the Dominion Foundation, a partnership in education program through Dominion East Ohio.
The money will be used to purchase process control learning system equipment for the college's industrial instrumentation program.