Monica Fuglei is busier than ever.
Fuglei is an instructor at Arapahoe Community College and the chair of the school’s English department.Classes are building like crazy” as she prepares for the fall semester, which is scheduled to start on August 22.
“We’re finding that we need to be a little more fluid and agile in terms of registration,” Fuglei said. “It brings new pressure, but it’s a good pressure.”
Rising enrollment numbers at the ACC speak of the excitement Fuglei is feeling, with data showing an approximately 5% increase in student enrollment in early August compared to the same point in 2021, a difference of approximately 250 students.
Numbers are still coming almost every day and the percentage increase is ever-changing, according to Lisa Matye Edwards – vice president of student affairs – who anticipates the final total will exceed the college’s enrollments in 2021.
In 2021, ACC recorded enrollment of 7,038 students, up from 6,594 in 2020 — a 6.7% increase — according to the Community College System.
The college was an outlier in the metro area last year when enrollment rates for most urban community colleges fell in 2021 compared to 2020, some as much as 14%.
“We’re really proud that ACC continues to be responsive and serve the community, and I think our signup numbers show that,” said Edwards. “We are both relieved and proud.”
Joe Garcia, chancellor of the Colorado Community College System — which includes 13 colleges with 35 campuses statewide — said he remains “cautiously optimistic” that overall enrollment rates will improve from last year.
“If you look at it nationally, nationwide (in 2021) we’ve lost nearly 1 million community college students,” Garcia said.
Amid the inflation when”People are faced with rising rents, gas prices, food prices, people have to work,” Garcia said, citing education as an unaffordable luxury for some.
“What we need to do is convince them that they can still take classes while they work and that during these classes they can better prepare for the future,” Garcia said.
As ACC appears to be on track for even higher enrollments this year, Edwards says the numbers are a testament to the college’s ability to weather the pandemic — widely blamed as the culprit for the drop in enrollment at most schools — as well as meeting student needs in a precarious economic moment.
While demand for in-person learning has increased as we head into the fall semester, online courses and services remain popular, Edwards said. There was one 5% more students registered for online classes this semester compared to last fall.
ACC President Stephanie Fujii said the pandemic showed the college it could offer options for students in ways it hadn’t tried before.
About 80% of ACC students attend classes part-time, with many working or raising families, meaning online learning, as well as other resources such as counseling, can be a key factor in continuing school.
“Students actually like virtual services,” Fujii said.
However, ACC’s reputation as “e“arn and learn” environment, as Edwards called it, still affords students a unique and often beneficial personal experience.
By offering programs that enable students to work practically in their field, such as B. Working at a dealership as part of the college’s automotive program, students can find their way into the workforce at a time when employers are desperate for talent and jobs abound.
“In Colorado, parts of the workforce were identified where we need to nurture our talents, e.g. B. Healthcare and cybersecurity,” said Edwards. “I’m excited about the coming year, I’m excited about the direction we’re going.”
Such programs can provide “real job opportunities that lead to a living wage,” said Garcia, who hopes it will be a big seller for those looking to take advantage of higher wages in a volatile economic landscape.
Still, challenges remain outside of attracting enough students, Garcia said, as the higher education system sees an exodus of staff and faculty looking for better pay.
“Some of our colleges have lost more than 20% of their staff in one year,” Garcia said, emphasizing the need for higher salaries and benefits for public education workers.
But even with obstacles ahead, the energy seems to be palpable for ACC as it approaches a new school year. Buoyed by promising enrollment and a Fuglei, the English teacher, said she looks forward to “busy hallways” and packed classrooms to continue the return to normal as schools emerge from the disruption of COVID-19.
“I remember a time on campus when it was difficult to find parking and I hope we get back to that soon,” Fuglei said.