Harford Community College has experienced a 6% decrease in enrollment since the pandemic began, according to a report provided to the board of trustees.
The economic downturn caused by the pandemic, and the recent recovery, have caused many students to either delay or change their plans. That has led to declining enrollment at community colleges nationwide, including HCC, said Nancy Dysard, director of communications.
“We are witnessing a national trend regarding the decline in community college enrollment,” Dysard said. “Like all community colleges, when the economy is doing better and jobs are plentiful, we see a decline in enrollment. The pandemic also had a significant impact on our enrollment, so the college is taking several steps to address enrollment.”
The board discussed a plan during its meeting Feb. 8 to get more students to enroll by making degree and certificate programs more affordable while boosting retention.
For the 2018-2019 school year, HCC enrolled 11,859 students. In the 2020-2021 school year, that number dropped to 9,697 students enrolled.
The top three noncredit programs at HCC are electrical and HVAC apprenticeships, and computers. Students normally enroll in noncredit programs on a course-by-course basis. Most programs offer licensing tests.
Certificate programs mostly attract students who are already employed and looking to improve their skills, but can also provide direct employment opportunities. Classes in these programs are normally for credit and follow a prescribed path within semesters and terms. The top three certificate programs at HCC are cyber defense, teacher education and accounting.
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Associate degree programs require 60 credits of coursework. HCC offers associate degrees in the fine arts, science, arts in teaching, and applied arts. The top three associate degree programs are mathematics, English and biology.
HCC is offering financial help to students who have outstanding debt with the school or who are struggling financially through the Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund. So far, the program has helped 10 students with outstanding tuition bills return to school, it was announced during the meeting.
HCC will be using a $1.5 million grant from the Ratcliffe Foundation to open the Harford Leading Edge Training Center, where students can get training in skilled construction trades, manufacturing, warehousing/distribution and logistics. The Boys and Girls Club will be providing child care while students are in training.
Also, HCC is expanding its workforce development courses and partnership with Harford County Public Schools for dual enrollment. The college will continue to offer online and in-person classes.
“We have sharpened our focus on retaining our existing students,” Dysard said.
Three years ago, the college joined Achieving the Dream, a national, nonprofit leader in championing evidence-based institutional improvement, and Dysard said HCC is using those best practices to retain students.
To enhance student enrollment, Dysard said, the college’s academic programs should meet community needs through employment, transfers and enrichment programs. HCC will monitor the number of students and cost of delivery to make sure its programs meet quality standards and are sustainable, she said.