Bevill State Community College had a legislative luncheon Tuesday, Nov. 12, where college president Dr. Anne McNutt informed those in attendance on where the college stands in regards to enrollment, funding and the facility’s needs.
In the fall of 2012, BSCC had a total headcount of 3,737 students enrolled among its four campuses — Jasper, Sumiton, Fayette and Hamilton. Enrollment numbers for 2013 stood at 3,480.
Currently, there are 728 students on the Jasper campus alone, including dual enrollment students from Curry, Carbon Hill, Oakman and Cordova high schools. However, the number of online students are not included with that total headcount — which averages to approximately 450 students. Penne Mott, dean of the Jasper campus, gave a comparison of this year’s enrollment numbers to last year’s.
“It still doesn’t dismiss the fact, and I’m just being brutally honest, if you look at our numbers this year compared to last year for this campus only, we’re still down around 7 percent,” Mott said. “Why? That’s the big question. Why are we down 7 percent? Well, number one, pell grant.”
The requirements for obtaining a pell grant have tightened. Mott said they have stricter rules now for declaring a major, demonstrating progression in that major and completing courses in that major. She also said some students would receive their pell grant checks and stop going to classes.
According to the latest campus-wide data from Bevill, for the 2013 fall semester 65 percent of students are on pell grants while 74 percent use some type of financial aid assistance. Over the last three years, the average number that has received pell grants is 76 percent.
The second reason for causing a decline in the student body at community colleges is a more competitive offering of online classes. Mott said major universities, in particular, are making online dual enrollment classes available that target high schoolers and they are offering lower tuition.
“At this campus, we are primarily an academic transfer campus. That means students come here and they get their first two years of academics before transferring to a university,” Mott said. “If they’re getting it in high school as a dually enrolled student, then what’s the need in coming to us because they’re getting that credit?”
A third reason is centered around the growing economy. According to a July 2013 article in the New York Times, “The recession that began in 2007 steered still more people into college, especially adults who were past traditional college age and who enrolled in community colleges.”
Demographics for Bevill’s 2012 fall semester showed the average age of a student was 26. A boost in the economy has driven college students back into the work force.
“It’s been demonstrated that when our economy is bad and people lose jobs, they come back to school to be retrained. When the economy is better, they find jobs and leave school,” said Holly Trawick, Bevill’s assistant director of public relations.
Another adding factor to the decline is a reduction in the number of seniors in high school, not only in Bevill’s coverage area, but in other states also.
“Our campuses are located in small communities, and in some cases the senior classes are getting smaller. That reduces the pool of seniors that may come to us,” Trawick said. “Local demographics have an effect and location of high schools and whether or not those senior classes are smaller than they used to be.”
Trawick also added that since fiscal year 2008 state funding has been reduced by 29 percent; however, enrollment is only down between seven to eight percent. “So, we’ve lost 29 percent in funds, but we still have, compared to that, the majority of our students. We’ve lost 29 percent of our money with only eight percent fewer bodies on our campuses.”
In 2009 Bevill State lost its athletic programs, which were basketball, cheerleading, baseball, softball, volleyball and track. Mott and Trawick said the loss of its athletics did play a part in lowering enrollment numbers.
“The year after we lost athletics we did have a noticeable enrollment decrease, but we also had to reduce our nursing class enrollment a little bit,” Trawick said. “So, that year we had a decrease but it was mainly attributed to losing athletics and losing some nursing slots.”
She also said that due to Title IX federal regulations for every male athletic program there has to be a female athletic program. Title IX states that “No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving federal financial assistance. ... whether the selection of sports and levels of competition effectively accommodate the interests and abilities of members of both sexes.”
A question raised by members of the public was “What if the community was willing to support the basketball program?” Title IX regulations would not allow for only one program to operate. An estimated $1 million was appropriated to keep the athletic programs going each year.
“We had to cut $1 million. The alternative is to eliminate an academic transfer or technical program, eliminate instructors,” Trawick said. “Our core mission is to educate. We don’t want to eliminate instructors.”
“Or academic programs, when it’s between academic programs and athletics,” Mott added. “That was a hard decision.”
The last two possible factors affecting enrollment, more specifically Bevill’s, is the 2011 tornado outbreak and the closure of the on-site campus dorms. The tornadoes mostly affected the areas of Cordova, Sipsey and Argo, but the rural locations still played into BSCC’s enrollment issues at that time.
The dorms on the Jasper and Sumiton campuses were closed, officially fall 2013, due to safety issues with sewage and plumbing.
“That dorm was built on a concrete slab, and all of the plumbing is intertwined underneath that concrete slab,” Mott said. “We were just having such a problem with back up of sewage. ... We have had an architect look at our dorm renovation costs, and we are planning to renovate. And, the cost of that renovation is going to be $1.8 million.”
She also said that many students want to come and stay in the dorms to have that “college experience” away from home. A lot of students would come from surrounding areas such as Birmingham, Fayette and Vernon to live in the dorms. Some stayed in the dorms just to participate in the music and nursing programs offered at the Jasper campus.
The Jasper campus dorms will hold a total capacity of 50 students. Mott said 23 students occupied the dorms during the fall of 2012 semester while 38 stayed during the spring 2013 semester.
Trawick said the continued use of traditional advertising, making high school counselors more aware of available scholarships, offering new programs and more involvement in student activities are helping to combat the problems of a declining enrollment. She added, too, that they are focusing more on retaining students.
“If it is harder to bring in new students, we can focus on the students we do have and work on retaining them through to their goals,” Trawick said. “We want to get them involved in student activities where they can have fun and make friends.”