Prop 300 plays role in MCC enrollment drop
Arizona Republic
Jan. 16, 2008

Jim Walsh

The parking lots are still jammed at Mesa Community College, but enrollment dropped 8.6 percent in two years from a peak of more than 27,462 students in spring 2005 to 25,097 in spring 2007.

Enrollment for this spring is not completed, but is lagging based on early numbers.

Among the contributing factors is Proposition 300, passed in 2006 by voters to deny cheaper in-state or in-county tuition to students who cannot prove U.S. citizenship.
MCC had 276 students whose citizenship could not be verified between May 16, 2007, and Nov. 15, 2007, the second highest number in the Maricopa County Community College District.

"You can't get feedback from people who are not here," said Chris Chesrown, a district spokeswoman. "There are indications it has contributed."

Jerry Walker of Mesa, a member of the district's governing board, said he believes Proposition 300 is eliminating some Hispanic students from the community colleges.

"I think that's where the impact is and I think that's what the voters expected," he said. "It could be viewed as a positive."

As classes resume this week at MCC, the largest school in the district, officials are hoping for another late surge in enrollment from procrastinating students to avoid another dip.

As of Wednesday morning, MCC's enrollment this semester was more than 23,600, but historically, about 3,000 students register during the first week of classes, said Sonia Filan, an MCC spokeswoman.

"I think we're going to be pretty close. We could be down by 500 students or up by 50," she said.

But Filan acknowledges the enrollment curve is headed downward at MCC and other district community colleges in established low-growth areas, while enrollment rises at colleges on the Valley's growing fringes.

District officials cite changes in demographics and a low unemployment rate. They say enrollment may rise if the U.S slips into a recession and new students start enrolling for additional training needed to pursue new careers. A 14 percent tuition hike at Arizona State University next fall for transfer students and freshmen also might force some students to rely on community colleges.

Enrollment started to decline at MCC and other district schools in 2006. The district had 1,720 students whose citizenship could not be verified. Tuition for 6.5 credit hours or less is $65 per credit for county students and $90 per credit for out-of-county students. The charge jumps to $251 per credit hour for out-of-county' students taking seven or more credit hours.

In addition, from May through November 2007, 33 students at MCC did not qualify for financial aid because they could not prove U.S citizenship. MCC also experienced a decline in enrollment for English as a Second Language classes.

Incoming president Shouan Pan, who arrives in mid-February, said he considers reversing the school's decline in enrollment among his top priorities.

"It has to do with economic and demographic shifts," Pan said. "Community colleges tend to be linked with job market fluctuations."

Enrollment peaked in 2005 at most Valley community colleges, but has declined since at MCC, Glendale Community College, Scottsdale Community College and Phoenix College.

In contrast, enrollment rose at Chandler-Gilbert Community College, Estrella Mountain Community College in Goodyear, Paradise Valley Community College and at Rio Salado Community College, which offers mostly online classes.

Overall, the county community college system's enrollment dropped 3.2 percent from 119,622 in spring 2005 to 115,841 in spring 2007, a decline of 3,781 students. District Chancellor Rufus Glasper was unavailable for comment.

Walker said enrollment would increase if a change in state law authorized community colleges to offer four-year degrees in education, nursing and other health-related fields.

"Students want classes offered in different ways now," Filan said. "The core of what we do is excellent. They get a good education at a fair price."

MCC already offers classes in variety of structures ranging from traditional instruction to online classes and hybrid classes, which combine the two. One possibility is expanding the hybrid offerings, which feature limited class time with online work, Filan said.

"I think a lot of it is alternatives that kids can do," said student Lauren Heppler, 19, when asked about the enrollment drop. "Instead of going to MCC, they went to cosmetology school."

Jason Russell, 21, another student, said he prefers classroom instruction, but "given that we're in the digital age, it's a lot easier to attend classes at home."

Mike Leslie, 28, returned to school after six years in the Marine Corps.

"It's difficult, but they made it as easy as it could be," he said. "I can't see why anyone wouldn't want to come to school here."