As more and more adults are finding work throughout Missouri and nationwide, colleges, including State Fair Community College, are facing a decline in enrollment. With unemployment in Pettis County at 4.1%, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, enrollment at SFCC is lower than projected for the fall semester.

SFCC officials reported during the July 30 Board of Trustees meeting that enrollment for the fall semester was down from the same period in 2018. A total of 3,040 students had enrolled, marking a slightly less than 7% decline in student enrollment. 

SFCC administrators remain optimistic the number will increase before the start of classes on Aug. 19.  

“As of this week, the college is projecting to start the Fall 2019 term with slightly more than the 2% decrease in enrollment, as budgeted,” Dean of Student Services Dr. Autumn Porter said Friday. “We recognize that there is a well-established inverse relationship between community college enrollment and a strong local economy.

“The growth in employment in the Sedalia-Pettis County community is both a blessing and a challenge in terms of enrollment,” Porter explained. “However, both the Clinton and Eldon sites are showing marked growth in enrollment as a result of the addition of nursing and other health care programs in those communities.”

Nationwide enrollment has decreased for the eighth consecutive year, according to figures released May 30 by the National Student Clearing House Research Center. 

“Community colleges continued their enrollment slide with a decline of 3.4%,” according to NSCH. 

Four-year public institutions saw a drop of 0.9%, the Center found. Only four-year private institutions saw an increase in enrollment with a 3.2% increase.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, nationwide unemployment sits at 3.7% for the first week of August.  

By comparison, enrollment at the University of Columbia for the incoming freshman class is up 15%, according to numbers released by the university in May. Freshman enrollment for the fall was 5,460 up from 4,696 registered in 2018.  

Porter’s 2% decrease is a projection based largely on the college's dual-credit enrollment. The dual-credit program allows high school students to enroll in classes at SFCC while still attending their respective high schools. 

Porter explained historically many students submit their paperwork late in the process. She further explained some of the schools have new counselors and/or administrators and late start dates, which will affect SFCC’s numbers.

Dual credit is currently down, but administrators noted enrollment routinely jumps in this area a week or two before the semester begins; this includes Career and Technical Center students.

“SFCC’s dual-credit program for local high school students will increase as our K-12 partners return from summer break,” Porter said. “The college, along with other institutions of higher education in Missouri, is anxiously awaiting the announcement of a new funding program (Fast Track) targeting non-traditionally aged students looking for credentials in high-demand career fields. We look forward to meeting the needs of those working adults later in the academic year.”

The Missouri Department of Higher Education Fast Track Workforce Incentive Grant is a financial aid initiative of Gov. Mike Parson. The program became law with the signing of Senate Bill 68 in July.

The program’s purpose is to help Missouri reach its educational goal of 60% of working-age adults having a high-quality certificate or degree by 2025, according to a SFCC press release. Fast Track increases access to financial resources and encourages eligible adults to pursue a certificate, degree, or industry-recognized credential in an area designated as high need.

The Coordinating Board of Higher Education has designated more than 635 program areas as eligible for Fast Track funds. SFCC offers 33 of these designated programs in fields such as accounting, agriculture, automotive technology, business management, computer information systems, construction management, criminal justice, health sciences, education, electrical maintenance, machine tool, welding, marine technology, and welding, according to the release.

The grant program launched Aug. 5. Fast Rack works much like the A+ program. The State budgeted $10 million for the grant. 

Eligibility for Fast Track is as follows:

  Individuals who are 25 or older or individuals who have not been enrolled in any school within the last two years can participate.

• The program will serve students who have not yet earned a bachelor’s degree and are planning to enroll part-time or full-time.

• Individuals who make no more than $40,000 per year, filing single, or not more than $80,000, filing jointly.

According to SFCC, Fast Track is applied to tuition and fees after eligible federal dollars are applied.

“Fast Track funds, when combined with other governmental financial aid, will ensure that a participant’s tuition and fees are fully covered. In other words, grant awards will be used for any remaining tuition and fee costs not covered by other state and federal student aid programs,” SFCC noted in the release. “Individuals who receive other aid that covers the full tuition and fees may be eligible for an award of up to $500 to cover other education-related expenses.” 

As administrators at SFCC point out, enrollment numbers change daily. Since July 31, 33 students enrolled online. An additional 24 enrolled on site. Enrollment for the fall semester closes at 11:59 p.m. Aug. 18.

The college continues to utilize other avenues to address the declining enrollment numbers.

“Our Navigators are reaching out to their students, including the dual-credit high school students to remind them to enroll now. The Navigators (advisors) have extended availability to accommodate students’ personal schedules,” Executive director for Marketing and Communications Brad Henderson said. “We are marketing the Fast Track program and increasing marketing efforts across our service area. We are also hopeful that the new customer relations management software (Slate) that we are implementing will help.”

SFCC officials also hope the availability of scholarship funds will be an incentive for those considering enrollment.  

According to SFCC Foundation Executive Director Mary Treuner, “FY20 that started July 1 has $228,274 of endowed scholarship dollars available to our students.” Students can fill out an online application under the financial aid tab on the SFCC website. 

For more information, contact Admissions and Outreach at 660-530-5833 or admissions@sfccmo.edu. 

Education Reporter

Hope Lecchi is the education reporter for the Democrat, covering all things education in Sedalia and Pettis County, as well as providing general assignment and feature coverage. She can be reached at 660-530-0144.

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