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Enrollment Tailing Off in Some Phoenix-area Community Colleges

MESA Ariz.

Despite a growing population in Maricopa County, enrollment in the county’s community college system is dropping.

Seven of the district’s 10 colleges lost students this school year, according to the Maricopa County Community College District.

Enrollment numbers at the largest and most established colleges are dropping fastest, according to district data.

Scottsdale, Mesa and Glendale community colleges and Phoenix College have each lost 10 percent of their enrollment since 2004.

The colleges are now worried about how to get students to class, not just where to place them.

“It’s become an issue and I don’t think it’s ever been before, we were such a high growth market,” said Reyes Medrano, a Paradise Valley Community College business professor and president of the faculty association. “But it certainly is now.”

The district cites a number of factors including a strong economy, changing demographics, state lawmakers, Arizona State University and new private colleges.

The district doesn’t know how much each is responsible for the losses, or even if they’re responsible at all.

“It’s always been hard for community colleges to pinpoint some of the factors, in my opinion, that lead to students’ decisions,” said William Guerriero, head of academics at Chandler-Gilbert Community College.

Researchers say two-year colleges often suffer when their region’s economy strengthens, said Arleen Arnsparger, a project manager with the Community College Survey of Student Engagement. To keep their classrooms full, colleges must work with the businesses that have taken their potential students.

The Maricopa County district also worries about ASU.

The district says the university is intensely recruiting the county’s low-income students with financial aid packages the community colleges cannot match.

ASU officials say that effort is in its infancy.

The director of the Access ASU program, Antonia Franco, says that in the program’s first two years, ASU enrolled about 533 additional students from the school districts it had targeted across metro Phoenix.

Mesa Community College alone lost 1,411 students during that time, district data shows. Phoenix College is down 1,116.

“While I’m sure we have contributed to it,” said Franco of the community college district’s enrollment losses, “we’re young and we’re starting.”

Information from: East Valley Tribune/Scottsdale Tribune,

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