By Chris McGuinness
Killeen Daily Herald
If students in Texas colleges are feeling a little cramped on campus, it isn’t just their imaginations.
New enrollment data for the fall 2011 semester show a 4.3 percent increase in the number of students attending post-secondary institutions in the state, according to a preliminary report by the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board.
By far, the fastest-growing institutions are public community colleges, which grew by 46,384 students, or 6.4 percent, from the 2010 fall semester, according to the coordinating board.
Locally, Central Texas College saw a nearly 4 percent increase in enrollment. The community college has seen its student population rise from 8,290 students in 2007 to an estimated 13,213 this fall.
The growth rate at the community college is smaller than in previous years, such as a 6 percent increase between 2009 and 2010, and a 20 percent increase between 2008 and 2009.
To accommodate its climbing enrollment, the community college’s strategy includes asking instructors to voluntarily teach more classes for additional pay as well as hiring more part-time adjunct faculty, said John Hunt, CTC’s deputy chancellor for Texas campuses and distance learning operations.
He added that the community college occasionally will substitute courses with low enrollment for ones that are more in demand. “If we are full for our freshman composition courses, and there is a British literature course with just four students, we may substitute (one for the other),” said Hunt.
But the large jumps in community college enrollments don’t surprise Steve Johnson, a spokesman for the Texas Association of Community Colleges. “If you look, it’s not uncommon to see (community) colleges seeing double-digit growth (percentages) over the past few years,” he said.
Johnson attributed the sharp upswing during the last five years to several factors, such as students attempting to cope with a shaky economy. He said community colleges appeal to unemployed people as well as those seeking more training to advance in their professions.
For college students fresh out of high school, Johnson said the difference in tuition costs between a community college and a public or private four-year university could play another deciding factor.
“It’s the gap in tuition cost that appeals to many of them,” said Johnson. “They come and do one or two years before moving on. Many community colleges are located regionally, and they (students) are able to stay close to home, which also has some economic advantages.”
While not growing on the same scale as community colleges, four-year public and private institutions in Texas continue to experience steady gains in student enrollments.
Public universities saw a 2.5 percent increase in students, while private universities grew by 1.2 percent, according to statistics from the coordinating board.
But the Texas A&M University-Central Texas campus in Killeen saw a slight drop in student enrollment for fall 2011.
Preliminary fall semester numbers stand at 2,100 students, which is a 9.3 percent decrease from fall 2010, when there were 2,317 students enrolled.
The university usually has peak enrollment in the spring, but it lost about 100 students at Gatesville prison, said Randy McCauley, a spokesman for the university campus. “We lost those students due to budget cuts at the prison,” he said. “For a small campus like ours, that is a significant drop.”
TAMU-CT currently occupies space on the CTC campus while construction continues on a new 106,000-square-foot building that will contain 26 classrooms for its students.
At the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor, the private university saw a nearly 7 percent uptick in enrollment from last year’s fall semester. Preliminary fall 2011 enrollment stood at 3,137 students, a 14 percent increase from 2007, reported the state coordinating board.
The university appears to be matching its growing enrollment numbers with an equally large plan to expand its campus in Belton. In February, UMHB approved a $100 million master plan, which includes building new student housing on campus in 2014.
Regardless of how colleges and universities are dealing with the increasing numbers of students, Johnson said they shouldn’t expect the trend to decline any time soon. “There may be fluctuations, but it looks like this growth is going to continue into the future.”
Area higher ed numbers
Numbers were gathered from reports by the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board and/or from the school’s own enrollment numbers. All 2011 enrollment numbers are preliminary.
2007 2008 2009 2010 2011
CTC 8,290 9,481 11,873 12,737 13,213
TAMU-CT N/A N/A N/A 2,317 2,100
UMHB 2,685 2,701 2,768 2,956 3,137