TRAVERSE CITY — Spring term kicked off at Northwestern Michigan College last week with 6 percent fewer students than a year ago, but tuition and student fee revenues are projected to hold steady.
The unofficial enrollment count tallied 4,390 students. That compares to 4,679 students last spring, said NMC Registrar Carol Taberski.
“We saw the biggest jump in enrollment in the fall of 2010. Everyone (in the state) had big jumps, really liked it, really appreciated it, but we’ve been going down since then,” Taberski said. “It seems like everybody but two colleges are down. We’re not as down as some others.”
NMC’s record fall enrollment peaked in 2010 at 5,440 students but has declined every year after that. Last year's fall enrollment of 4,726 was a 13.1 percent dip from 2010 but still above 2008 fall enrollment levels, Taberski said.
Despite the decline, tuition and fee revenues are projected to inch above the $8.2 million revenues of last spring, thanks to tuition rate and fee hikes that took effect this school year, according to NMC's "dashboard" statistics website.
Enrollment at the state's community colleges is counter-cyclical to the economy. When the jobless rate is high, more students tend to choose community college because they can live at home and pay lower tuition rates than four-year colleges. Unemployment also plays a part, with jobless adults often returning to college to refresh their work skills.
"When people got laid off, a lot of people went back to school, but they had only so much funding and it ran out," Taberski said.
The college is trying to fight the decline with more aggressive recruiting. Indeed, admission inquiries at the college are up 48 percent from a year ago, but they weren't able to reverse the downward enrollment trend.
The college stepped up efforts to lure out-of-state and international students to campus, in part, because they pay two and half times the tuition rate compared to in-district students. International students are up slightly at 24 this semester, an increase of three from a year ago.
Out-of-state student enrollment showed a more marked increase — up 18 percent to 118 students from 101 last spring, Taberski said.
The college will report its official enrollment number on Jan. 23, the 10th day of spring term, said NMC spokesman Andy Dolan.