Community college enrollment takes a hit in spring, school leaders say future enrollment trending in the right direction

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PEORIA, Ill. (WMBD) — Data shows community college enrollment took a hit this spring, but local school officials say they’re optimistic that this trend will soon reverse.

Statistics from the Illinois Community College Board show that compared to 2020, enrollment is down 14% in Spring 2021.

It’s a trend that’s also being felt locally. Leaders at Illinois Central College say they’ve seen enrollment drop around 14%. Meanwhile, Heartland Community has seen a decline of about 10%.

“Our numbers were well down for first generation students, [and] for minority students as well,” said Sarah Diel-Hunt, Vice President of Enrollment and Student Services at Heartland Community College.

Both colleges said the pandemic has had a large impact on student decisions.

“An overwhelming reason was COVID created chaos and uncertainty in their lives, they had to spend the year dealing with,” Diel-Hunt said.

“Classes being online, that’s not a preferred method for many students,” said Dr. Sheila Quirk-Bailey, President of Illinois Central College.

For upcoming semesters, numbers are going in the right direction.

“At this point for the summer we’re about 10% up,” Quirk-Bailey said.

Diel-Hunt said early fall 2021 data is also trending upward for Heartland, with more new students enrolling than in 2019.

She said the college hopes to attract students back with academic and financial assistance.

“A lot of times students will have a past debt with us because they weren’t able to pay off the balance due when they left, and that creates a hold on them being able to register. We’re able to lift those holds now,” Diel-Hunt said.

Quirk-Bailey explains that adjusting to student needs may be the key for the future.

“We’re actually hoping that over the next semester we will not only regain enrollment but continue to grow it as students have far more options to meet their schedule and individuals needs,” she said.

Quirk-Bailey also says that Central Illinois is experiencing large workforce gaps and if you are able to fit education in, that now is a opportune time.

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