Enrollment to Drop at NWACC, Pulaski Tech

by Marty Cook  on Monday, Jan. 20, 2014 12:00 am  

Northwest Arkansas Community College in Bentonville reported having enrolled 7,018 students for its spring semester as of Tuesday, down 9 percent from Jan. 14, 2013.  (Photo by Beth Hall)

Another critical factor is recent federal regulations that have placed restrictions on financial aid available to students, limiting the length of time a student can receive aid and making it harder for some students to receive aid if they have defaulted in the past.

“They just don’t have the dollars to pay for school out of pocket,” said Brandi Hinkle of the Arkansas Department of Higher Education. “Sometimes financial aid affects whether they go and how many hours they take at a time.”

The report from the National Student Clearinghouse bears that out. Full-time student enrollment dropped 5.2 percent and enrollment by students age 24 or older dropped 6.2 percent from 2012 to 2013.

At the same time, the Arkansas Lottery Scholarship has become less generous. Starting in the fall of 2013, eligible students attending two-year colleges receive $2,000 a year. Two-year college students received $2,500 a year when the lottery scholarships were first awarded in the fall of 2010, an amount that had already been reduced to $2,250 for the 2011-12 and 2012-13 academic years.

Both NWACC and Pulaski Tech have purged their spring semester enrollment rolls for non-payment. Harkey said this is common because students sign up for classes expecting to receive aid — or expecting the aid application to be quick — and then don’t have any money to pay the first tuition bill.

Officials at both colleges said they have found that many purged students later find the financing and re-enroll, but there’s no way of predicting how many will each semester.

“Many students register but don’t have money or financial aid so have to drop out later when money doesn’t show up,” Harkey said. “It is really hard to predict what the enrollment is going to be. Many two-year college students decide late to go to school and think financial aid is a quick guarantee process. They think, ‘I’m going to get aid, too.’”

The expected drop in enrollments isn’t yet causing hardships at the colleges. Officials at Pulaski Tech, which has grown from 800 students in 1991, said the school plans to tighten up operationally and postpone non-essential purchases.

Kitchen said NWACC will collapse classes — for example, offering 20 Spanish I classes instead of 25 — but won’t do anything that will affect the quality of the education offered. Kitchen also said the college, like Pulaski Tech, will postpone fulfilling its “wish list.”

“Anything that is going to affect the student’s experience is not an option,” Kitchen said. “We do look for ways to be efficient. That wish list becomes obsolete. We may want some particular upgrades to facilities — well, those things are going to go on the back burner.

“Those are the low-hanging fruit we first consider.”

Pulaski Tech relies on tuition and student fees for about 58 percent of its $47.8 million budget, with the rest being supplied by the state Legislature. Pulaski Tech charges $95 per credit hour, so a reduction in the number of students as well as the number of credits they take can add up.



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