Arizona Republic
September 1, 2006

Author: Mel Melendez,


Arizona Republic, The (Phoenix, AZ)
For the first time in at least a decade, Maricopa Community Colleges are attracting fewer students.

The district recently recorded a 2 percent drop in full-time student enrollment, prompting school officials to beef up outreach efforts and boost course offerings to lure more students to affected campuses.

The enrollment dip cost the district $2.5 million in tuition and registration revenues thus far, but no programs or student services are affected, officials said.

School officials call the decrease a temporary setback sparked by the state's thriving economy. But they're not sitting on their laurels and have implemented a regional marketing approach to draw more students.

"We have an unemployment rate of 4 percent, and the healthier the economy, then the weaker our enrollment," said Steve Helfgot, MCC's vice chancellor for student and community affairs. "But we're pushing regional collaborations among our colleges and making tweaks to programs where necessary to help turn that around."

After about 10 years of swelling enrollment, some MCC campuses, including Phoenix College and Glendale Community College, recorded slight dips in full-time student enrollment in 2004-05. But the 10-campus district's overall enrollment didn't shrink until last school year.

Various factors are to blame. Robust employment numbers, slowed or non-existent growth in sections of metro Phoenix, and competition from other higher-education institutions, contributed to the drop, officials said.

But partnerships among MCC campuses and new programs, such as Estrella Mountain Community College's nursing program and Phoenix College's journalism program, could help draw additional students.

Estrella Mountain, which in 2004-05 marked a 14 percent enrollment boost, recorded a 3 percent dip last school year. Officials said the West Valley's development boom, including the opening of various high schools, resulted in the 14 percent spike. But the prosperous economy contributed much to last year's enrollment hit, said Ernie Lara, Estrella's vice president of student affairs.

"Studies show that when there are more jobs people tend to stay away from school and training," Lara said. "But we are concerned because we know that a person's earning power increases with educational attainment."

The Avondale-based college recently partnered with Phoenix College and Glendale and Paradise Valley community colleges to launch a marketing blitz that included mailings, school orientations and a Web site. "It's about renewing collaborations and combining our forces to attract more students,"
said George Martinez, Glendale's director of institutional advancement.
"This started as a direct response to the enrollment dip and we think the strategy is showing promise in attracting new students."

Phoenix College and Glendale Community College showed dips of 4 percent and
6 percent, respectively.

Paradise Valley recorded an increase in full-time enrollment of 1 percent, down from the 5 to 7 percent increases recorded during the past five years.

Administrators are also implementing campus-specific strategies to boost enrollment. For example, Phoenix College annually holds its Enrollment Extravaganza affair, a one-stop, customer-service registration event for those interested in attending the central Phoenix campus.

"This year we enrolled 1,500 students, which was 500 more than last year, so we're very pleased," said Phoenix College President Anna Solley. "We realize that there's a lot of competition for students, so we really have to be aggressive to show students what we have to offer."

Campuses monitored their enrollment numbers and made the necessary adjustments to offset revenue losses, said Gaye Murphy, MCC's associate vice chancellor for business services.

"Fewer students means that our costs are reduced because you adjust classroom sizes and support staffing to offset the loss," she said. "So you'd never know that we lost any students if you visited our campuses."

The district, which annually serves about 70,000 full-time students and has a maintenance and operations budget of about $541 million, implemented a tuition increase this school year.

The increase adds $170 in annual tuition and registration costs for full-time students. This means that in-state students taking 15-credit loads now pay about $1,980 annually, a figure some Phoenix residents called prohibitive. The change will generate about $15.8 million to MCC coffers to pay for a new computer system, academic advisers, expanding libraries and bolstering student scholarships, officials said.

Still, MCC officials say the increase will likely have "limited impact" on enrollment, because Maricopa County's tuition and registration costs remain below the national average of $2,191.

"I think that committed students will persist and find a way to get their educations, because where there's a will, there's a way," Murphy said. "But for those with a real hardship, we've set aside $1.8 million for financial aid."


1.Robust employment numbers.

2.Slowed or non-existent growth in sections of metro Phoenix.

3.Competition from other higher-education institutions.

Enrollment declines, 2004-05 to 2005-06 (ĦExtra!, page 3)

* Estrella Mountain Community College, 3 percent.

* GateWay Community College, no drop.

* Glendale Community College, 6 percent.

* Phoenix College, 4 percent.

* South Mountain Community College, 1 percent.

Maricopa Community Colleges

CAPTION: 1. Ian Fecke (left), Curtis Mullings and Leticia Quintana talk before class at Phoenix College. Some Maricopa Community Colleges are experiencing declining enrollment. CAPTION: 2. Donald and Erica Gerhart take an algebra class together at Phoenix College. The couple can share a textbook, helping with college costs.
Edition: Final
Section: Phoenix Community North
Page: 1