Community Colleges Grappling with Rising Enrollments, Sinking Budgets; White House Takes Notice

In this recession, one market is thriving—community colleges. Just last week, the White House held the first-ever national summit for community colleges. President Obama proposed that by 2020, an additional 5 million adults will hold community college degrees and certificates and announced millions of dollars in privately funded grants. [Participate in our Forum on the president’s goal for community colleges.]

With the unemployment rate hovering around 9%, many New Englanders have turned to community college for vocational training in hopes of re-entering the job market. The Connecticut Department of Higher Education reports that almost 127,200 students will be enrolled in postsecondary education this fall, and according to, community college students account for almost 58,300 of this number.

In neighboring Rhode Island, the Community College of Rhode Island reports 17,775 students are taking classes this semester at CCRI’s four main campuses. The only time enrollment was higher than the present figure was in 1992, when tuition was waived for senior citizens and the unemployed.

Yet, the high enrollments may be jeopardizing community colleges’ mission of access. More students mean more resources, which many publicly funded schools cannot provide. As reports, in Maine, 4,000 students were denied their first choice academic program. New Hampshire, too, has to say “no” to many students, especially those seeking to enroll in more popular programs such as nursing. With budget cuts in full force, community colleges are finding it increasingly difficulty to meet the population’s growing demands.

It’s not just career-changers who are seeking out community colleges. Larissa Ruiz Baia, associate vice president of Enrollment Management at Manchester Community College in New Hampshire, notes “we are seeing a high number of traditional-age students coming to us in large part because of affordability, who might not have considered a community college in the past.” With more college seniors now considering community college, enrollments have nowhere to go but up.


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