Faculty, staff and student representatives from across Virginia’s Community Colleges agree that change needs to occur, but it will take months to determine just how much, and exactly what, needs to change. That’s the conclusion from the inaugural meeting of the Chancellor’s Statewide Enrollment Task Force that recently occurred at the VCCS System Office.
Dr. Glenn DuBois, the chancellor of Virginia’s Community Colleges, assembled the task force in response to a six-year enrollment decline, affecting all 23 community colleges, which has left the VCCS serving nearly 50,000 fewer students.
“This is the longest enrollment drought I’ve experienced in my nearly 37-year career,” DuBois said in briefly greeting the panel. “Something is going on that’s perplexing and costly. It’s time to take a deep dive. You have a license to explore anything we do. I want to unleash the talent in this room and see where we land.”
Virginia’s Community Colleges’ headcount and FTE enrollment are both down 16 percent and 15 percent respectively since the 2011-2012 academic year. The number of credit hours students took over that same period declined by 24 percent. The decline cut across all demographic groups. Collectively, the colleges took in $125 million less in tuition and fees than they would have had enrollment held steady.
“Enrollment decline is a national phenomenon,” said Dr. Sharon Morrissey, VCCS vice chancellor for academic services and research. “It is deeper and more dramatic in Virginia.”
Task force members were quick to point out that the challenges of reduced enrollment extend well beyond community college campuses.
“The work of this task force is of the utmost importance; it’s critical to the social fabric of the commonwealth,” said Dr. John Capps, president of Central Virginia Community College and task force chair. “Our enrollment decline is diminishing the opportunities that we can offer to the people of Virginia. We can change policies. We can change processes to be better. That’s the opportunity that we have here.”
As the panel found its footing, conversation flowed throughout the daylong meeting, ranging from specific challenges in enrollment management, student retention and financial aid to broader questions about customer service and campus culture.
“Most students leave us for reasons that are probably in our control,” said Dr. Janet Gullickson, president of Germanna Community College and task force vice chair.
The task force agreed to organize its work through the loss-momentum framework concept that serves as the underpinning of Complete 2021, the statewide six-year strategic plan of the VCCS. And, they agreed to identify and execute communications strategies to ensure that faculty and staff members from across Virginia’s 23 community colleges had the opportunity to contribute. The taskforce is expected to forward a preliminary draft of their findings next February. The final draft is due next May.