Enrollment down by additional 7 percent

By Rylie Frohock
The Scene staff

Spring enrollment at Forest Park is down for the fourth year in a row, causing problems for students, faculty and the college as a whole.

Some 5,036 students are enrolled this semester, according to statistics provided by Vice President of Student Affairs Franklin Taylor. That’s compared to 5,424 last spring, a drop of about 7.2 percent.

Taylor attributes the decline to factors such as a resurging economy, which allows more people to get jobs and requires fewer to seek additional training; a decline in local high-school graduates; a rise in student debt; and competition with other colleges and universities.

“It’s not a good feeling when there is a drop in enrollment,” Taylor said. “We drive on the synergy that students bring.”

The most noticeable effect of declining enrollments is that classes are cancelled, sometimes at the last minute.

This happened last year to civil engineering major Christopher Hughes, 18. He signed up for a jiu-jitsu class to get a physical education credit, but it was canceled because not enough students signed up.

“It was a little upsetting because I wanted to learn all the moves,” he said. “It seemed like it was going to be fun.”

Even though classes such as jiu-jitsu are required, cancellations can throw off schedules for both students and faculty.

Math professor Lynda Fish has been teaching at Forest Park for 25 years and is no stranger to cancellations due to enrollment drops.

“You have a schedule, and when something in the middle goes away, you don’t always have the opportunity to pick up something that fits perfectly in that slot,” she said.

“You have to teach 15 credit hours, and my colleagues have been forced to where they’re teaching 8 a.m. classes and then 5 p.m. classes to make their schedules. It means you’re here different hours. And you have to work your family life around it.”

Faculty salaries also can be affected.

“There is a formula for what is called ‘low enrollment,’ where faculty can be paid less to teach a class with fewer students in it,” Fish said. “If the dean is willing, and the faculty member is willing, and it’s a calculus class, and you know those eight people sitting there really need the class, you can teach it for low enrollment.”

Looking at the past 10 years, Forest Park enrollment peaked at 8,823 students in the fall of 2011. It gradually dropped to 5,036 this semester, a difference of 3,787 students.

However, the campus saw a slight increase in non-traditional students (age 60 and over), going from 63 last spring to 68 this spring, as well as general transfer, allied health and culinary students.

St. Louis Community College has put strategies in effect to increase enrollment on its four campuses. Recruiters are building partnerships with local high schools and visiting college fairs, building websites and enhancing marketing strategies.

“With more students, you have a better environment and a better community where students are able to engage each other,” Taylor said.