The number of credit hours taken by Cape Cod Community College (4Cs) students is on the rise, even though total headcount enrollment has, as in previous years, experienced a slight decline. Credit hours have increased over the past year from the Fall 2018 semester by 1.6%, which is 5.5% above the projection for the school. Credit hours are how income coming into 4Cs is accessed, which in turn dictates the amount of money 4Cs have to invest back into its programs.
A decrease in the total number of students is not bad news. Nationally, enrollment of first-time, full-time students has been on a decline since peak enrollment numbers in 2010. Currently, the American Association of Community Colleges (AACC) projects a trend of slow and modest growth in enrollment for community colleges through the year 2027. 4Cs’ enrollment numbers are reflecting that trend as although enrollment is down, the numbers have not decreased as significantly as in previous fiscal years.
“So when we look at enrollment. We can think about it in terms of headcount—how many bodies, how many students—and increasingly we’ve been looking at it more in terms of the number of credits because that’s really tied to our bottom line,” said Dr. Maureen O’Shea, 4Cs Director of Institutional Research & Planning. “As any organization we have to watch the kind of money coming in to make sure that we’re being fiscally responsible.”
Enrollment numbers themselves are just one piece of the data that determines the overall success of Cape Cod Community College and its students. Retention and graduation rates that are determinate metrics of success also flow circuitously back to future enrollment outcomes.
“We may have fewer students, but they’re taking more credits. We also know when you look at national data, the more credits you take, the more likely you are to graduate,” said Patrick Stone 4Cs Director of Strategic Communications and Marketing. “So, taking more credits, is one of the key factors that we look at in terms of the long term student success rates, the more credits you take the more likely you are to graduate here, the more likely you are to graduate here, the more likely you are to get a bachelor’s and so on and so forth so beyond just the budgetary reasons we want to increase the amount of credits that are being taken. It also has a pretty significant footprint on what our completion and graduation rates look like so this was a really big thing as we were tracking it through the fall and seeing the reports come in every week that their credits are so much higher than what we thought they were going to be and that helps fund more services.”
Some of the services Mr. Stone is talking about are the 4Cs food pantry, and the Crisis and Life Management Team (CALM) provided by the student wellness office. The use of these services by 4Cs students has skyrocketed. The number of students visiting the food pantry has increased by 170% this semester. CALM provides students access to mental health and addiction recovery, which is a growing trend for colleges and something that has been underfunded or non-existent at higher learning institutions in the past. Students at 4Cs who take advantage of these services have a significantly higher retention rate than those who do not.
“[These services] keep students from dropping out, from saying I need to take a semester off, or I can’t go to college because I’m too hungry,” said Stone.
Retention rates at 4Cs are up across the board. Numbers for full and part-time students overall, and for those identified as minority students have seen a retention increase of 3.7%.
The 4Cs Enrollment Team, whose influence is felt through all departments in the administration, has launched several campaigns to combat the recent years of downward enrollment.
“We got so deep into this enrollment report looking at it semester to semester, and this is our actionable takeaway,” said Stone. “Our goal is to have enrollment be as strong as it can be. A lot of the work over the past year has been between a lot of different areas but largely led by the enrollment team with an enrollment plan to retain students and enroll more students, so that we could stabilize enrollment.”’
Those actionable takeaways implemented include the new ‘Be Powerful’ campaign that profiles former 4Cs students across print, broadcast, social media, and other digital platforms.
Another campaign, ’15 to Finish’, works to provide students with fast-tracking academic plans that encourage them to complete 15 credits per semester (30 in one year) so they do not get bogged down in classes that are not on the academic map for their programs. 30 credits per year earn a student their Associate’s degree in two years. Those who complete an Associate’s at 4Cs are more likely to go on to earn their Bachelors at another institution.
A new co-requisite English model allows new students who have not tested high enough on their placement exams to fully enter accredited classes to take both their required developmental courses as well as enrolling in some English classes for college credit. The idea is that too many students feel having to take a semester or two of developmental courses without receiving any credit become demoralized and drop out. Co-requisite models allow students to make progress that counts right from the start.
“It makes a huge difference because the number one prohibition at a community college for retention and completion is getting locked into developmental classes early on that can stall your progress,” said Stone. “And we’ve actually done one better than the national model. The students who place into developmental courses, most of them are taking two college credit courses. So they’re taking English 108 and 101 getting six college credits, and they succeeded a huge rate.”
New academic programs at 4Cs are also attracting new students. The Funeral Service, Security Penetration Testing, and Social Media and Digital Marketing programs have been drawing in larger numbers of students.
Total enrollment numbers for the fiscal year at 4Cs will continue to rise when the Quick-term students are added.