College enrollment up

Published 12:00 am Thursday, September 2, 1999

Since classes began last week, Riverland Community College is seeing more students this year than last.

Thursday, September 02, 1999

Since classes began last week, Riverland Community College is seeing more students this year than last.

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With the low unemployment rate, the recent conversion to semesters and a tuition increase, college officials expected enrollment to be down this year.

But college President Gary Rhodes said the enrollment was up 4 or 5 percent, although he didn’t yet have exact numbers. Some programs don’t report their enrollment numbers until mid-September.

While the increase in enrollment appears to be across the board, Rhodes said some programs have enjoyed higher enrollment increases.

Programs like the Albert Lea campus’ construction electrician program has attracted more students to the community college. Rhodes said the program is full and there is a waiting list.

The community college’s nursing program also continues to be a draw.

&uot;Overall I think it’s great,&uot; Rhodes said. &uot;With unemployment so low, we might expect enrollment to also be low.&uot;

Rhodes explained when companies start laying off employees, those individuals will often return to school to update their skills or learn new ones.

However, many companies are funding higher education for their employees to advance their skills.

Jean Eaton, dean of the Albert Lea Riverland Campus, said many of the programs are designed to help local employers fill their needs.

&uot;Everybody’s looking to train or retrain,&uot; Eaton said.

Eaton said the increases at the Albert Lea campus were &uot;remarkable&uot; and added that she too was surprised with the gains since the unemployment rate is favorable.

&uot;When everybody’s working, they don’t have to go to school, so this is a surprise,&uot; Eaton said.

The increase should benefit both the college and the community, both Eaton and Rhodes said.

Since the State Legislature has decreased the amount of &uot;spendable money&uot; given to the college, the increased enrollment should help to cover those losses.

&uot;The legislature will say that they actually increased funding, but we received 1 percent less spendable money this year,&uot; Rhodes said.

The community college had already implemented a 15 percent cut of non-salary jobs.

College officials were also looking at eventually cutting programs that were &uot;enrollment challenged.&uot; And while they will continue to evaluate programs, the sense of urgency is not as great.

Rhodes credits aggressive marketing and additional programs requested by the community for the higher numbers this year.

And according to Eaton, the students are not the typical demographics Riverland attracts.

&uot;Our average age here is about 27, but this group looks a little younger,&uot; Eaton said.

The community college is beginning to attract more high school graduates, she added.

The partnership between South West State and Riverland plus the added liberal arts programs are helping to change the image of the college and attract a wider variety of students.

But Riverland Community College isn’t the only institution to benefit from the enrollment boost.

&uot;We have people coming from Blue Earth and Kiester. After class, they buy groceries and shop before heading home. They eat out while they’re here. So really, the whole community benefits from this,&uot; Eaton said.