Community college overall enrollment up first time since 2010, NIACC down slightly

DES MOINES — The state’s community colleges saw an increase in enrollment this year for the first time since 2010. 

The Department of Education’s Jeremy Varner says that’s somewhat of a surprise given the state’s low unemployment. “Community college enrollment is in part counter-cyclical. So we’re pleased to see enrollment growth this fall, particularly given the tight labor market, right, normally, we would expect to see some declines. So Iowa is bucking this historical trend,” Varner says. 

He says the growth is split among the 15 schools. “So enrollment is up point-six percent to just over 82-thousand students. This growth is not evenly distributed amongst our institutions, seven of our community colleges are up, eight are down this fall. But we are seeing more institutions seeing growth,” he says.

Varner says told the Board of Education this is a preliminary report on the fall and it shows the move away from full-time students continues. “Students are continuing to shift from full-time to part-time. This is a trend that’s been going in our data since at least some time in the mid-1970s. So for a very long time,” Varner says. “Part of that is driven by growth and concurrent enrollment. But this fall, we’re also seeing growth in traditional student enrollment, those students that are in that 18 to 24 range.”

He says they are seeing fewer students who are beyond the 18 to 24 range. “We do have a decline in non-traditional student enrollment this fall, which is expected in a tight economy, but traditional students and concurrent enrollment students are up,” Varner says. “One trend that we are watching that we’re a little nervous about is that immediate enrollment is still down. That’s basically the students who just graduated from high school in May and are showing up in the fall. That number is still down a bit.”

Varner says the highest enrollment comes in one particular area. “Enrollment in career tech programs is up three-point-two percent. That’s more than other program areas. So students are really looking at those career programs that are going to get them skills, they’re going to help them in the economy,” he says. “That’s more nursing students, business students, these kinds of things are thinking there is that has to be in part driven by growth in our career academies and regional centers.”

Varner says they saw in online enrollment by four percent this fall after having huge surges in online enrollment during the pandemic.

He says the number of high school students who enroll in community college classes is up by more than  44 percent with high school students in that concurrent enrollment making up 45 percent of the students and nearly 29 percent of community college credit hours. 

Varner says he will have more details on the makeup of the community college students in January.

Iowa Lakes Community College had the largest enrollment increase at eight-point-five percent. North Iowa Area Community College enrollment dropped one-tenth of one percent.