MAYS LANDING — Enrollment continues to decline at Atlantic Cape Community College, and school officials are responding with increased tuition and a streamlining of courses instead of layoffs.
The college Board of Trustees at its meeting last week approved a $14 per credit increase in general education tuition and mandatory fees, bringing the average semester cost for 12 credits to $2,130. The board also eliminated and merged several programs.
“We’re actually in a very positive frame of mind, even though this is an increase (in tuition),” said college spokeswoman Laura Batchelor. “We’re seeing more interest in the college, and we’re trying to refine our offerings.”
Declining enrollment at community colleges is a national issue usually attributed to upticks in the economy as more people move into the workforce, but in New Jersey it also is due to an aging population.
“We’re seeing declines in enrollment across nearly all of our community colleges in New Jersey and nationwide,” said Aaron Fichtner, president of the New Jersey Council of County Colleges.
Fichtner said it’s a balancing act for community colleges between tuition increases and budget reductions, but the two-year options are still the most affordable in the state.
Over the past several years, Atlantic Cape has raised tuition and sent layoff notices to more than 40 employees.
According to preliminary fall 2018 enrollment figures from the New Jersey Office of Higher Education, Atlantic Cape had a 10 percent decline in enrollment over last year. Total enrollment fell to just under 5,000.
But spring semester numbers are not as dismal as previous years’. The college had forecast an enrollment decline of 5% this spring but ended up with only a 2.4% decline. Batchelor attributed that to the free community college program being offered this year through the state.
“Of our enrollment for spring 2019, over 200 of the students came directly from the community college grant,” she said.
Fichtner said the other 13 community colleges in New Jersey that received the grant for the free college pilot also reported better enrollment.
“There were a good number of students who had to stop their education because of financial concerns who are now able to complete their education as a result of the community college grant program,” he said.
For next year, Atlantic Cape, which serves two counties, is following the recommendation of a recent report by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education, the national college accreditation organization, to transition to a “guided pathways” model, which responds to student needs based on data.
“The recommendation of Middle States as it relates to our academic programs is that we should continue to connect assessment results to budget and resource allocation decisions. The Guided Pathways model eliminates duplication of programs and refines what type of degrees are important and in demand to the local community,” Batchelor said.
At its meeting last week, the board eliminated the Geographic Information Systems Office Specialist Professional Series program, the Geographic Information Systems Option in Computer Information Systems, Computer Applications Option in Office Systems Technology, the Database Design and Development Option in Computer Programming, and the Paralegal Studies Certificate program.
Batchelor said there was very little enrollment in those classes.
The board also consolidated its Education Options in Liberal Arts into one program, and eliminated its four professional series programs under the Academy of Culinary Arts in Baking and Pastry Specialization, Catering Specialization, Food Service Management Specialization, and Hot Foods Specialization. Baking and Pastry was added as an option in culinary arts.
Batchelor said reduction in staff again this year was off the table, as the college does not want to increase its student-teacher ratio or impact the level of teaching currently available.