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Chesapeake College enrollment surge continues

Posted on Thursday, January 07, 2010

WYE MILLS – Chesapeake College´s historic enrollment boom is showing no signs of abating.

Trend data released Tuesday showed the Mid-Shore´s community college with a 13 percent increase in Full-Time Equivalents (FTEs) compared to the same time last year. Thirty credit hours equates to one FTE.

This spring´s enrollment increase follows a 7 percent FTE increase last spring when the college set a record for spring enrollment. The current enrollment surge comes on the heels of a 20 percent FTE increase last summer and 9 percent increase in Fall 2009. The college has been absorbing the enrollment increases without new full-time faculty positions for several years due to budget limitations.

"Budget constraints are testing the concept of the open-enrollment community college," said Dr. Barbara Viniar, Chesapeake College´s president, noting the college´s current state funding has been reduced to Fiscal Year 2008 levels to help close a budget deficit. "We reached a point last August when most of our fall classes were closed, and we´re likely to reach that point again this spring.

"Ironically, this is coming at a time when more and more residents are looking to us to meet their educational needs," said Dr. Viniar, noting student headcount – currently running more than 8 percent ahead of last spring – is also likely to set a new school record.

Faculty and students are making adjustments to help the college try to meet the enrollment surge, according to Dr. Richard Midcap, the college´s vice president for student success and enrollment services.

"We´re enrolling more students in each section, and students are settling for classes on days and at times when they would rather not be taking classes," said Dr. Midcap. "Our faculty have been very understanding about what we´ve had to do to accommodate the growth, and students also seem to understand the situation, but it´s certainly not ideal."

If current trends persist, Chesapeake´s incoming students will be younger, more diverse and include more full-time students. The college is seeing increases in the percentage of full-time students (40.3 percent of headcount, compared to 33.3 percent last spring), minority students (22.3 percent of headcount, compared to 19.8 percent last spring), and 23-and-under students (59 percent of headcount, compared to 58 percent last spring).

The college could enroll as many as 2,900 students this spring, compared to 2,629 last spring.

"That would be almost a 400-student increase in two years," noted Dr. Viniar. "It´s a testament to the college´s value to our community."

When enrollment is complete, according to college officials, virtually all demographic categories are likely to see headcount growth.

"What I´m seeing for the first time in 15 years of advising is there is no method to the madness – we´re seeing all ages, all backgrounds, people who have lost jobs, returning students and people enrolling for the first time," said Linda Earls, an associate professor of English who also serves as an academic advisor. "Part of advising is mentoring and counseling – talking to the students as human beings and helping them build schedules that meet their needs. We want to set them up for success."

The diversity was evident Tuesday morning as students waited to be seen for advising and registration. Traditional and non-traditional, day and evening, full- and part-time students were all represented.

"I totally love this school," said Denton resident Melanie Smith, who works for the Caroline County Commissioners and is attending part time in the evening while taking courses in the Business Administration major. "All the teachers are sincerely involved and interested in their students."

Smith said she hopes to complete a bachelor´s degree on Chesapeake´s Wye Mills Campus through one of the four-year schools located in the Eastern Shore Higher Education Center.

Andrew Gast of Grasonville, who started at Chesapeake last fall after attending Community College of Baltimore County while living in Baltimore, said he prefers Chesapeake´s small-school setting.

"It´s more relaxed and not as hectic as being on a bigger campus," said Gast, who plans to attend part-time this spring.


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