By CAROLINE BECK, Alabama Daily News
MONTGOMERY, Ala. - Alabama community colleges are seeing a drop in fall student registration by as much as 29% as most campuses will be starting classes virtually and in-person Monday.
During Wednesday’s Alabama Community College System board meeting, Vice Chancellor Susan Price told board members that the current number of registered students is 55,981, down from 70,938 during the 2019 fall semester.
Price said those preliminary numbers don’t reflect students who have paid for classes yet and could decrease. But, others could sign up for classes in the first days of the new semester.
“We tend to have a surge the week that school begins, so we are expecting those people who are on the fence right now to come to our institution next week and take advantage of registration then,” Price said.
Price also noted that two-year schools have seen an increase in four-year college students enrolling in online community college classes for their fall semester in order to save money on less expensive tuition.
“They know they can get a quality and more affordable education online from us, so that’s been a really interesting twist in registration,” Price said.
Margaret Gunter, the communications director for Alabama’s Commission on Higher Education, said that early indications from campus leaders show that applications and registrations for four-year colleges are on par with the 2019 fall semester, but there is uncertainty with students following through when the semester begins.
“The on-campus residential halls may possibly see fewer students leading to an enrollment decline,” Gunter said.
Price said the two-year system will roll out a robust marketing campaign in the fall in order to boost enrollment for the spring semester.
“Bottom line is, yes, we’re going to have a very soft fall,” she said. “But yes, we are prepared to offer the quality education at our colleges that we’re known for and we are looking forward to a very robust spring.”
All of Alabama's 24 community colleges have submitted their plans for re-opening and all have been approved by ACCS.
Those plans include staff training on COVID-19 restrictions and necessary health standards like proper social distancing, increased sanitation practices and mask requirements.
Price said a majority of classes will be held online in the fall but some exceptions have been made for in-person teaching when needed, including with lab requirements for health programs.
Most on-campus courses are scheduled to end by Thanksgiving with some colleges moving to online after the holiday.
“We wanted to make sure that, to the extent we could, that we don’t have people on campus after Thanksgiving because that coincides with flu season,” Price said.
Each college’s plan for reopening and conducting in-person teaching can be found at their individual website.