Monday, February 6, 2023
Feb. 6, 2023

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Longview’s Lower Columbia College — like community colleges nationwide — sees enrollment drops


LONGVIEW — Fewer students are enrolling at the Lower Columbia College than in recent years, with administrators making efforts to keep up with the change of student population likely exaggerated by the COVID-19 pandemic and flexible work options in an area known for its construction and manufacturing trades.

Wendy Hall, LCC’s vice president of effectiveness and college relations, said the school is working to make up for continued enrollment drops that have accounted for 900 fewer students than in the 2019-20 school year.

Nationwide, college enrollment has been dropping since the pandemic. National Student Clearinghouse research shows 5% fewer students enrolled in public two or four-year colleges in spring 2022 compared to spring 2021. In Washington state, undergraduate enrollment fell 13.5%.

Community college enrollment took the hardest hit in spring 2022, dropping 7.8% nationwide. Community colleges have now lost over 827,000 students nationally since spring 2020, National Student Clearinghouse reports.

Hall speculated the drop in local and national college enrollment is due to students now having more options for post-high school trade work and wanting to save money on tuition.

According to data provided by the college, 2021-22 enrollment remained lower than pre-pandemic, dropping from 4,302 students to 4,040 in the last year.

“That’s not something that’s bouncing back as quickly as we would hope,” said Nicole Faber, the college’s outreach director.

The picture is still rosier than what they might have anticipated, as schools across the state and country experience a change in demographics that have seen fewer students, especially men, enrolling in college.

“We’ve still been holding steady,” Hall said.

What the data shows

The enrollment drops are not tied to one factor, Hall said. While the COVID-19 pandemic could have served a role in the drop from 5,257 to 4,040 students between 2019-20 and 2021-22, Hall said the college has been trying to make students feel college remains a viable option.

Overall, in 2021-22, the total unduplicated number of students attending LCC came to 4,040. The college in 2020-21 reported that 76% of its graduates get a job nine months after they finish at LCC. Associate degrees make up the most common degree students earn, and many students attend through their high school’s Running Start program.

Founded in 1934, LCC remains one of the most popular of Washington state’s 34 technical and community colleges. The operating budget was $25.3 million in 2021, with state funds that come in to help the college as it does with every public school.

Of the 4,302 students at LCC in 2020-21, 80% or 3,449 students are supported with state funding, according to LCC data. The vast majority — 86% — are Washington state residents, though the number of enrollees who are coming from out of state has steadily rose to 5% of the student population.

More students in recent years are coming from other places in the state to attend a college that was historically a stepping-off point for R.A. Long and Mark Morris high school graduates, who now mostly attend for their associate’s degrees before they enter the workforce.

In 2017, 44% of LCC students came from Longview and 20% came from Kelso. That has changed slightly, with those numbers dropping in 2020 to 37% and 17% respectively.

About 26% of enrollees are younger than 20 years old, and 19% are between the ages of 35 and 49. Though many LCC enrollees are new to college, 29% of them enter with some level of post-high school education, and 2% enter with a bachelor’s degree on hand.

Addressing enrollment

Hall said the enrollment changes are not a cause for major concern for LCC right now, and they expect to see it turn around soon.

LCC is working mostly on retaining the students they have through expanded mentorship opportunities and investments in technology programs, she said.

“We want to be adaptive to serve the needs of our community,” Faber added.

The enrollment trend often follows changes in inflation, Hall said.

“When inflation is low, enrollment tends to go up,” Hall said.

Much of the change to the student population also comes down to a changing world that has made it easier to get employed in trades through certification.

Cowlitz County has a long history of being an industrial-focused economy, with many students who choose to go directly into an apprenticeship or begin working jobs that do not necessarily require a degree.

Plus, the economy continues to add jobs, providing an alternative option to college. The Employment Security Department of Washington State reports jobs across the state increased by 5,400 in October.

Though the male population at LCC has been on a steady decline for decades and accounts for only 30% of students, Faber said the college for the first time recently saw an uptick in its male students.