Enrollment booming at RCC

A booming student population at Rogue Community College in recent years has put it among national leaders in growing enrollment, and trends for the current semester suggest the boom is continuing.

Initial numbers for RCC's winter term show more increases for the winter term, on the heels of a 13.3 percent fall term increase over fall 2009. The final fall term count showed 6,045 students taking credit classes, up from 5,335 in the fall of 2009. When non-credit students were included, the total headcount for fall 2010 was 7,925.

Margaret Bradford, marketing and community relations director for the college, said the first-day numbers for the winter term showed 6,559 students signed up for credit classes. She cautioned that the number likely will drop by the official count in the fourth week of school as students drop out or fail to pay for classes.

RCC was recognized in November as one of the 50 fastest-growing two-year colleges in the nation, based on its enrollment increases in 2009. It ranked 46th nationally in a report published in Community College Week.

The surge in students is helping RCC maintain a relatively even keel amid continuing state cuts. RCC has seen a steady stream of cuts in state funding over the past several years, including a cut of more than $1 million from the $6.3 million the school was originally scheduled to receive in the current year. Over the past seven years, state funding has dropped from 32 percent of RCC's funding to less than 16 percent.

The increased tuition revenue has helped with bridging the gap, Bradford said.

"It's always a challenge because we keep losing funding," she said, "This year we were able to balance our budget, but next year we don't know how much we will get from the state,"

Although community colleges in Oregon are not part of a system like the state universities, they do try to work together when lobbying the Legislature, Bradford said.

"The pie is divided among 17 community colleges," she said, "and what we need is a bigger pie."

Bradford said RCC works hard on its own to bring in more students and their tuition, including targeting students in the area. RCC recruits students at local high schools, offering programs cut from their own high school curriculum, such as welding or construction.

Many students are also a casualty of the hard-hit economy, and come for career-specific programs, from truck driving to nursing, Bradford said.

The RCC campuses in Jackson and Josephine counties have to work to accommodate more students, but class sizes are generally not affected.

"It's a challenge for us to offer the right classes at the right times," Bradford said, "but in terms of class size it hasn't changed much."

Bryan Herve, an institutional researcher for RCC, said he has noticed the increased numbers of students on the Grants Pass campus, and expects the growth to continue, unless the unemployment rate turns around.

"Things will vary with the unemployment situation, and only if that turns around will we have a decrease in enrollment."

Just less than half of RCC students are at Medford's Riverside campus, while the rest are in Grants Pass, the Table Rock campus in White City, or online, as distance education learners.

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