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By AP  /  
2015 October 8 - 05:38 pm

As Ky. Economy Rises, College Enrollment Falls

Budget Cuts and Layoffs Follow Steep Enrollment Decline

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) — Kentucky education officials say the state’s improving economy is causing declines in community college enrollment, leading to staff reductions and budget cuts at the two-year institutions.

Officials with the Kentucky Community and Technical College System recently told The Courier- Journal (http://cjky.it/1Qay58L) that enrollment is expected to fall to about 81,000 this fall — a 25 percent reduction from its peak of 108,301 in 2011.

KCTCS President Jay Box said that has forced the state system to slash $36 million in expenses this year, including cutting 262 teachers and staff member positions, and reducing programs and offerings.

College officials say the economy is a factor, even though they acknowledge it’s not surprising.

After flocking to community colleges to earn degrees and new skills during a recession that once produced unemployment rates as high as 10.9 percent in Kentucky, students are increasingly being lured away amid jobless rates that in July dipped to 5.2 percent.

“Community colleges historically track with the economy,” said Mary Gwen Wheeler, executive director of the 55,000 degrees education initiative, whose goal is to increase Louisville’s collegeeducated workforce to 50 percent by 2020 from 41.5 percent today.

While more jobs is a good thing, officials say the enrollment declines it creates at two-year colleges are a concern for the civic push to increase Louisville’s college-educated workforce.

The effect is even spilling over to the University of Louisville, which accepts many transfers from Jefferson Community and Technical College, said admissions director Jenny Sawyer. Although fouryear colleges tend to be more insulated from economic ups and downs, fewer transfer students have contributed to a freshman class that declined in size compared to last year, she said.

Marcia Roth, who heads the KCTCS Board of Regents, said the reductions in tuition revenue are particularly difficult on community college budgets after years of cuts in state funding. State appropriations make up just 21 percent of the system’s budget. In March, the board decided not to raise tuition, as it had in previous years, to keep student costs down.

“There really needs to be a serious discussion with the next governor and General Assembly this spring about whether we’re going to reinvest in higher education because this is getting critical,” Box said.

Wheeler said her group will be targeting ways to increase attainment by increasing retention, or the percentage of two-year students who finish what they began and earn a degree. Right now, only 17 percent finish a degree where they started, she said.

Box said the system is looking at similar initiatives, and noted the improved economy does have “silver linings” for community colleges, including increases in demand for workforce training in partnership with businesses.

“We’ve tightened our belts,” he said, “but if this trend continues, we are going to be in trouble in the future.”

Information from: The Courier-Journal, http://www.courier-journal.com

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