In a recent assessment of student enrollment figures, Kirkwood Community College administrators pointed out a seven percent increase in total student registrants this fall when compared to the same time last year – a measure the college said is trending positively despite impending factors such as the COVID –19 pandemic.
Figures from the Kirkwood’s department of Institutional Advancement indicates a fall 2021 enrollment of approximately 12,424 students at the two-week mark into the current semester. Comparatively that number was 12,280 in the same time frame during the fall of 2020. However, as a result of this slight increase, school officials note continued efforts to maintain strength in enrollment numbers that will require on-going collective measures on their part as well as strategic planning.
“I’m really pleased with enrollment, …[but] this is a challenging time,” said President Dr. Lori Sundberg about the increase at the college’s most recent meeting with the Board of Trustees. “We expect a few years of long-term recovery from the pandemic, and we will have to see what the lasting challenges will be.”
Regarding the COVID-19 pandemic and its adverse effect on student enrollment in the past 18 months, the college is currently not engaging in contact tracing at this time, Sundberg said. However, wearing of masks is encouraged when gathering in closely-knit group settings.
According to research conducted earlier this year by the Chronicle of Higher Education, enrollment at community colleges nationally “has been a tough year” and had a significant effect on many students’ choice on whether to enroll. With the addition of the pandemic coupled with other factors such as the effect of trying to maintain a strong work-life balance, some students made the choice to either enroll online or found that the financial obligation presented a struggle to complete their education, the report said.
However, at Kirkwood, “The college has for a number of years placed an emphasis on improving the persistence, retention and graduation rates of students,” said Jon Buse, vice president of Student Services.
In doing so, the college has made strategic efforts in this endeavor by participating in an educational platform named Guided Pathways. This integrated model takes a long-term, structured approach to better improve degree completion, credential attainment and improve student transfer rates from a students’ initial point of enrollment in the college through graduation and ultimately into their chosen careers, Buse said.
Lastly, while the college continues to address student enrollment matters overall, it has also placed a significant focus on the hiring of six college career transition coordinators, to specifically provide a bridge from high school to college for students of color in the Admissions and Financial Aid process.
Moreover, a total of four equity in success coaches were also hired to support outcomes of these students and to support, engage and strengthen relationships with community partners who support this endeavor.
The college’s slight increase in enrollment is unique compared to national averages for similar institutions. Kirkwood touts this achievement as they move into the fifth week of classes with high student retention.