Faribault’s South Central College and area high schools are noticing slight decreases in the college-going rate and the college enrollment rate. That’s consistent with statewide trends.
Each year since 2010, enrollment at Minnesota’s State Colleges has declined. A 2.4 percent decline is expected this fall at the state’s two-year colleges, like South Central College.
South Central noticed a 2.8 percent dip from 2015 to 2016, with 128 fewer students enrolling. Its total enrollment was 4,427 last year, according to South Central College. School officials say the numbers may be misleading due to a change in the college’s registration model.
According to Minnesota Higher Education Commissioner Larry Pogemiller, the statewide dip is partly due to the success of the economy.
“With the economy going so well, there are going to be a number of people getting jobs right out of high school,” he said.
Director of Admissions and Financial Aid Jayne Dinse has also noted this trend in Faribault.
“As a community college, we are tied closely to what is happening in the economy and the community in terms of employment,” she said. “When there are jobs, people tend to go to community college less.”
Another trend in Minnesota’s colleges is the college-going rate among new high school graduates.
In 2016, the college-going rate fell slightly for a third straight year to 69.6 percent, according to newly released data from the state Office of Higher Education. In 2013, the rate peaked at 71.5 percent.
The Office of Higher Education also released statistics showing 217 Faribault High School students enrolled in college after high school in 2016, down 1.8 percent from 2015.
Faribault’s 2015 college-going numbers demonstrated a return to normal after enrollment increased 15.8 percent from 2014 to 2015.
Waterville-Elysian-Morristown saw a nearly 17 percent decrease in college-goers from 2015 to 2016, seeing just 54 students enroll. The same number of students went to college from WEM in 2014 as well.
In Medford, 45 students enrolled in college last year, just shy of a 24 percent dip from 2015. From 2014 to 2015, Medford saw an 11 percent increase.
Statewide, the numbers have shrunk consistently over the past few years.
Pogemiller said the incremental losses are not “statistically significant,” and said, “We think it’s flat basically.”
According to Dinse, however, those numbers have little effect on South Central due to the makeup of its student body.
“Our population is made up of more non-traditional students,” said Dinse. “So the comparison isn’t really relevant.”
What makes South Central’s students “non-traditional” is their age. Dinse estimates that about half of South Central students are 25 and older, which qualifies for non-traditional status.
Still, some high school grads are choosing South Central and are attending the new registration sessions this summer. Dinse said she spoke with a student who graduated this spring and was set to attend a state university in Minnesota. Once that student saw the tuition and room and board costs to attend, however, he found it was going to be too costly.
“He decided to come to South Central for his first year or two, live at home and then transfer,” she said.
Dinse calls the number of applications the college has received this July “amazing” and said she expects more students.
South Central College’s new course registration system, which debuted this summer, makes it harder to compare registration data with previous years or other schools, but makes it easier for students to enroll.
Typically, the school hosts but a handful of advised registration sessions each year. This year, under the leadership of Dinse, South Central is hosting weekly registration sessions in each major in the hopes of creating a more personal, direct experience for their incoming students.
“We had a session today that we capped at 20 students,” said Dinse. “So every advisor is working with two or three students. We see the value in getting them off to a good start.”
Dinse noted that students are shown how to use South Central’s online platform to register for their classes, find their bill and see the other academic services available to them.
“We bring the students in a small group to register so they have the opportunity to meet with an advisor one on one,” she said.
Classes at South Central begin in about six weeks.
Gunnar Olson covers city government, public safety and business for the Faribault Daily News. Reach him at (507) 333-3128, at [email protected], or follow him on Twitter @fdnGunnar.