Iowa Western Community College’s fall enrollment is down 3.1% from fall 2019, a college official reported at the board of trustees meeting Monday.
As of Friday, Oct. 16, the college had 186 fewer students than it did last year at this time, which resulted in a 4.6% drop in credit hours, according to Don Kohler, vice president of marketing and public relations.
“Our total enrollment was down 186 in head count and 2,644 in credit hours,” he said.
The decrease was larger than expected, President Dan Kinney said.
“We planned on a 1% decline in enrollment,” he said. “We’re looking at cutting another $300,000 to $350,000 out of the budget.”
New student enrollment was down by 10.6%, causing a 13.5% dip in credit hours taken by new students, according to a chart Kohler presented at the meeting.
On the brighter side, there were 36 more students, or 2.1%, who continued their programs from last semester, despite the college shutting down last spring because of the COVID-19 pandemic and switching to virtual instruction, adding 1.5% credit hours. Seven, or 1.5% more students than last fall, returned after a hiatus of one semester or longer, boosting credit hours by 1.2%.
The closure — and that of many high schools — made it difficult to recruit students for this fall, Kohler said.
“We weren’t able to have high school fairs, and we had to shut down all campus visits,” he said.
That meant students had to be contacted through mail, email and phone calls.
Enrollment declined at Iowa Western’s Council Bluffs Campus and all four of its satellite centers, prompting board member Dr. John Marshall to ask why numbers were sliding at the satellite centers.
“The satellite centers have been trending down for a lot of years,” said Marjorie Welch, vice president of academic affairs. “One reason is, it’s very difficult to offer full programs at the satellite centers.”
The interests of students who attend classes at the centers have shifted from liberal arts to career-technical fields, Welch said. Setting up career-technical programs and acquiring the needed equipment is very expensive.
“Just getting the equipment … is a major barrier,” she said.
Kinney said he thinks a trend away from degrees and toward short-term certificates is coming.
During the pandemic, many colleges have switched partly or mostly to virtual instruction. Iowa Western has both in-person and online components to most of its classes, while some are completely online.
Kinney said feedback indicates most students don’t like online learning. One woman said she feels like she is teaching herself. The sooner the college can go back to all in-person instruction for most of its courses, the better, he said.