BLOUNTVILLE — Northeast State Community College welcomed more than 6,400 students this fall, down slightly from last fall’s 6,478. That’s a decrease of 1.2 percent.
And Morristown-based Walters State Community College saw an enrollment decrease from 6,738 in 2011 to 6,565 in 2012, a decrease of 173. That works out to a decline of almost 2.57 percent.
Other Tennessee Board of Regents community colleges averaged a 3.6 percent decrease in enrollment for the fall, while state university enrollments decreased by 3.3 percent.
TBR has not finalized enrollment numbers yet, and Northeast State is still enrolling students in “mini-mesters,” which start each month, according to Northeast State President Janice Gilliam.
“While the enrollment has been flat these last two years, it was expected because of several factors. The economy has improved, and more people have found jobs and gone back to work, and unemployment benefits have expired, for example,” Gilliam said. “Unemployment often causes enrollment increases as people look to switch careers or increase their skills. In 2009 and 2010, enrollment jumped 25 percent due to the economic downtown, so as employment rates rise, enrollment rates flatten.”
At Walters State, the Morristown campus enrollment was down 21 from 3,908 to 3,887, while the Sevier County campus was down 125 from 1,570 to 1,445. The Greeneville campus was down 35 from 1,129 to 1,094, while the Claiborne County site was up 29, from 323 to 352.
Walters State spokeswoman Debra Williams said the overall decrease there was attributed mostly to an influx of adult students seeking new skills and degrees finishing their quests and re-entering the work force to seek new jobs.
Northeast State’s service area includes much of Northeast Tennessee down to Sullivan County, while Walters State serves other areas from Hawkins County westward.
Monica Greppin, director of communications for the TBR system, said enrollments are expected to settle now that some sectors of job growth are improving. She said tuition increases may also have played a role in the enrollment decline.
Greppin also said the recent Complete College Tennessee Act of 2010, which is geared toward degree completion, may have increased graduation rates, thus lowering enrollment levels.
Figures from the Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development show the state’s unemployment rate decreased from 9.4 percent in July 2011 to 8.4 percent in July 2012. The unemployment rate for the Combined Statistical Area of Johnson City, Kingsport and Bristol was 7.9.
Gilliam said it is important to keep in mind that the slower growth rate is coming on the heels of historic increases in community college enrollment.
Northeast State’s enrollment grew 64.2 percent from 2000 to 2010, the second-fastest rate in the state. Overall, Tennessee community colleges realized a 32.6 percent increase during that time.
While the college’s overall enrollment was flat, Northeast State at Kingsport saw an enrollment increase of more than 10 percent, which Gilliam said can be attributed to the opening of the Regional Center for Automotive Programs (RCAP) and continued growth in programs such as nursing. The college also added Personal Computer Management and Office Administration Technology programs.
More than 1,700 Northeast State students attend classes at Kingsport teaching locations.
“In addition to the opening of RCAP, the continued and growing awareness and accessibility of the programs offered through Northeast State at Kingsport were factors in the increase,” said Jeff McCord, vice president of Northeast State at Kingsport. “We also enjoy strong partnerships with the city of Kingsport, the Advanced Manufacturing Partnership, and the Kingsport Higher Education Commission, and our faculty and staff actively embrace educational initiatives within the greater Kingsport community.”