Friday, December 12, 2008
Colleges in Los Rios district once again make fastest-growing lists
Funding cuts, proposed fee hikes threaten future enrollment growth
Sacramento Business Journal - by Kelly Johnson Staff writer
Los Rios Community College District’s four colleges are among the nation’s fastest-growing community colleges for the second consecutive year.
The lists compiled for and published in trade publication Community College Week based the rankings on growth between fall 2006 and fall 2007, the most recently available data. The four lists, based on different categories of institution size, counted only students who were enrolled in courses that accrue toward a degree, certificate or formal award.
Los Rios’ three older colleges — Sacramento City College, Cosumnes River College and American River College — appeared on a list of fastest-growing public, two-year colleges with enrollments of 10,000 or more. All three finished in the top 50:
* Sacramento City College enrollment increased 8.8 percent. The college finished at No. 16, up from No. 36 during the last report.
* Cosumnes River College improved 8.3 percent, and finished at No. 22, down from No. 16.
* American River College ranked No. 41, down from No. 29 in the previous report. The college’s enrollment increased 6 percent from 2006 to 2007.
Folsom Lake College, the district’s younger college, ranked No. 7, up from No. 10 last year, on a list of community colleges with enrollments between 5,000 and 9,999. It’s enrollment grew 15.2 percent.
California had 30 of the nation’s 98 fastest-growing community colleges among the largest schools, up from 21 last year.
Sierra College in Rocklin and Woodland Community College, the only other community colleges in Greater Sacramento, were not on the lists.
Los Rios has been growing tremendously for several years, and is two years ahead of state projections for growth. Last month, voters, partly convinced by demand from escalating enrollment, authorized the district to issue $475 million in bonds. The average property owner in the district will pay between $20 and $27 a year for that bond.
“The data showing that our colleges are among the fastest-growing in the nation certainly confirms what we have been experiencing for some time,” district spokeswoman Susie Williams wrote in an e-mail. “Over the past four years, our enrollment increased more than 25 percent, and we expect that by the end of this fall semester, nearly 90,000 students will be attending our colleges.”
Los Rios enrollment is growing because the region is growing, the community has a much higher-than-average rate of residents going to college and the recession has led people to turn to college to “train and retrain for different careers,” Williams said.
The district expects to exceed 120,000 students in eight years.
This year’s lists don’t capture the full impact of students returning to college as a result of the economic meltdown. That will take until the 2010 list, said Victor Borden, an associate professor at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis, who compiles the list for the trade pub.
California has “always been a growth state,” Borden said.
The picture might become murkier, though, with a mix of unresolved factors. University of California and California State University campuses are limiting enrollment due to state budget cuts. Community colleges, which are usually the “outlet valve” when four-year systems aren’t an option, also face budget cuts and fee hikes.
California’s community colleges have the cheapest fees in the nation — $20 per unit, meaning “there’s very little barrier” to attend, said Patrick Perry, vice chancellor at the California Community Colleges Chancellor’s Office. But that could change with a proposal that would increase fees in two steps, ultimately to $30.
“Our unbridled growth is quickly going to be coming to a halt” because of increased fees and funding cuts the state will make to community colleges, Perry said. Those cuts will result in fewer courses and class sessions being offered.
California had 2.77 million students enrolled in its community colleges as of the 2007-08 school year, Perry said. This, might be the tail end of the growth, he said.
The Golden State has seen this before. Enrollment at the state’s community colleges peaked at 2.83 million students in 2002-03, when people returned to college after the last downturn and dot-com bust. When fees rose in fall 2004 to $26 per unit from $11 in spring 2003, enrollment dropped to 2.52 million students in 2004-05.