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NWACC enrollment down, officials cite pandemic

by Alex Golden | January 28, 2021 at 7:34 a.m.
Students walk across campus on Monday, Jan. 30, 2017, at Northwest Arkansas Community College in Bentonville.

BENTONVILLE -- Enrollment at Northwest Arkansas Community College dropped for the spring semester, which the college's leadership attributed to the covid-19 pandemic.

As of Tuesday, the 11th day of classes, 6,784 students were enrolled, according to unofficial preliminary numbers released by the school. That's about a 10.8% decrease from the 11th day of classes during the spring 2020 semester when 7,604 students enrolled.

"We believe this enrollment decrease is the direct result of several challenges associated with the pandemic," Todd Kitchen, vice president of student services, said. "We are encouraged by the rapidly growing number of applications for the summer and fall semesters as these are early indicators that people are gaining confidence in their ability to safely resume their educational journey. We applaud our college community's efforts to remain flexible and supportive of our students."

Kitchen said Wednesday the drop in enrollment is collegewide and isn't overrepresented in any particular program or department. The college has had significantly fewer students who qualify for federal Pell grants, he said.

Pell grants are awarded to students with "exceptional financial need" who have not earned a bachelor's, graduate or professional degree, according to the U.S. Department of Education.

While the students are still eligible to receive the grant money, they may be more financially affected by the pandemic in other ways, such as needing to pick up another job, Kitchen said.

Exactly how much less money the college brought in this semester wasn't available. Kitchen said the college didn't expect the pandemic to be over by now and tightened its budget, putting off some renovation projects, for example. He does not expect the drop in enrollment to cause major financial problems for the college.

Most classes at the school are being taught online because of the pandemic, according to Liz Kapsner, spokeswoman. Classrooms where classes are being taught in-person seat half their capacity. Masks are required.

Kitchen estimated about 90% of classes are being offered online only. Classes that cannot reasonably be held online, such as culinary or construction classes, are being taught in person.

Northwest Arkansas Community College had 7,583 students enrolled for the fall semester as of Sept. 8, the 11th day of classes. It was an about 12% decrease compared to the 11th day of classes for the fall 2019 semester when 8,649 students were enrolled.

The head count represents all full- and part-time students enrolled in degree programs, including high school students enrolled in concurrent credit. It doesn't include the college's workforce development programs, which allows people to obtain certificates, Kitchen said.

Enrollment in workforce development programs has remained steady overall with between 400 and 450 students, said Megan Bolinder, dean of workforce and economic development. The certified retail analyst program, an 18-month program, has a record of 204 people enrolled, a 74% increase from spring 2020, she said. That means about 117 students were enrolled a year ago. Bolinder attributed the increase to many out-of-state students enrolling in the program since it became online-only.

Exact enrollment numbers for specific programs were not available Wednesday afternoon. However, Bolinder said the three largest apprenticeship programs -- electrical; plumbing; and heating, ventilation and air conditioning -- have remained about the same in terms of enrollment. Enrollment in the sheet metal program is down because no business is currently sending its employees to get certified in the field, she said.

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Fast facts

Tuition at Northwest Arkansas Community College costs:

$75 per credit hour for students who live in-district

$135 per credit hour for students who live in-state but out-of-district

$150 per credit hour for out-of-state students

$195 per credit hour for international students

Source: Northwest Arkansas Community College website

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