NORMAL — Enrollment at Heartland Community College is down 6.5 percent from last year, as measured by total number of credit hours, Heartland President Allen Goben said Tuesday.
That is the biggest drop since Heartland began offering classes in 1991, Goben said, but it is less than the 8 percent that was projected in the college’s tentative budget. While the tentative $32.2 million budget calls for a 3.5 percent spending increase, Goben said cuts in personnel spending are on the table.
Community colleges across the state are experiencing similar declines, with officials pointing to the struggling economy as the key factor.
Heartland students enrolled in a total of 50,425 credit hours this fall, down from 53,425 last fall as measured on the traditional benchmark of the 10th day of classes.
The number of students also is down. There are 5,313 students registered for classes this fall as of the 10th day, a drop of 245 from the same point last year, Goben said.
While that is a 4.4 percent decrease, college officials were anticipating a decrease of about 5 percent, he said.
Goben said registration for 12-week and eight-week classes, which haven’t started yet, is expected to bring numbers up a little bit, but not much.
He said it’s “too early to tell” whether the downward trend will continue. Other community colleges have experienced enrollment declines while Heartland grew or remained relatively unchanged.
Illinois Valley Community College reported the biggest drop in the area, with a headcount of 3,944 — a drop of 9 percent — and a 10 percent decrease in credit-hour enrollment, according to Fran Brolley, IVCC director of community relations and development.
At Parkland College in Champaign, the 10-day headcount was down 3.8 percent from this time last year, according to Patty Lehn, director of marketing and public relations. She said enrollment is “kind of leveling off now” after declines is the last couple of years.
Enrollment is down about 5 percent this fall at Richland Community College in Decatur.
Illinois Central College figures won’t be available until later this week.
Goben said he’s been told typical college student jobs with flexible hours haven’t picked up, even though the economy is showing signs of improvement. Forced to choose between school and a job that doesn’t fit their class schedule, many are opting for employment, he said.
“It’s a pretty unpredictable environment we’re in right now,” Goben said. “We will have to plan for flexibility.”
Heartland officials continue to work on a final budget, to be acted on at the board’s Sept. 25 meeting.
How those personnel cuts will be made hasn’t been decided, Goben said. Officials are “holding on as long as possible,” he said, to see how many retirements and resignations take place.
He said, “We may lean a little bit on our (budget) reserves.”
Rather than dwell on the decrease in students, Goben said he has told faculty and staff to “focus on the 5,300-plus student we have here.”