Bucking a nationwide trend, Scottsdale Community College has a positive enrollment outlook in spite of the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Heading into the spring 2021 semester, seven of the 10 community colleges in the Maricopa County Community College District anticipated enrollment loss compared to spring 2020, according to information presented to the governing board at a recent meeting.
SCC was one of just two colleges, along with Rio Salado and Gateway, anticipating an enrollment gain.
According to information presented at the meeting, SCC was on track to increase enrollment by 7.7% in spring 2021.
Cumulatively, the Maricopa County Community College District was tracking for an overall enrollment decline of 15.5% in the spring.
That follows a trend that has seen community colleges across the country struggle to keep students enrolled during the pandemic.
Nationally, overall community enrollment dropped 9.5%, with some schools seeing declines of up to 30%, according to data presented at the meeting.
Those enrollment declines were likely exacerbated by the economic fallout of the pandemic that put additional financial strain on students.
“It isn’t always the cost of college; it’s the cost of life that keeps our students from continuing with us in succeeding,” says Dr. Karla Fisher, district provost of the Maricopa County Community College District.
SCC was able to buck the downward enrollment trend by implementing changes to increase options and flexibility for students, interim SCC President Chris Haines says.
She told the board that efforts to expand the college’s eight-week course offerings have been a cornerstone of that effort.
Since taking over SCC in 2018, Haines has advocated for use of eight-week courses over traditional 16-week schedules as a tool to combat enrollment declines.
“Research shows that students drop out due to the challenges of life,” Haines says. “The shorter eight-week timeframe allows students the ability to focus and complete the class while still managing personal issues, work and life. “
SCC was already in the process of integrating eight-week classes into its course offerings prior to the emergence of COVID-19, but the pandemic accelerated that schedule.
In fall 2019, approximately 15% of the college’s courses were delivered in eight weeks.
By fall 2020, that number rose to 40% — and the college is anticipating a similar level this spring.
Haines says 78% of students in the traditional online eight weeks passed their classes in fall 2020, up from 73% in fall 2019, and students in eight-week courses tended to take more credit hours.
“(About) 75% of SCC students are part-time, so many are working, managing children and more, along with all the uncertainty of COVID and being remote and quarantined life,” Haines says. “Therefore, it’s more reasonable to complete a class during eight weeks vs. the traditional 16 weeks of the semester.”
Haines says SCC also took steps to improve students’ experience online, which became especially important after most classes moved online in the wake of the pandemic.
SCC also launched the Online Learning Center last year to provide support for students and received a 2020 Excellence Award from the National Institute for Staff and Organizational Development for work done in preparing for the accreditation of its online programs.
Nearly the college’s entire residential faculty took training focuses on improving students’ online experience, and 55 participated in a boot camp over the summer “aimed at instructional design for alternative course delivery and modality,” Haines says.