Seattle Central sees drop in enrollment as international, technology learning opportunities grow

In the Seattle Community College District enrollment is dropping across the system’s three campuses, a trend hitting closest to home at Capitol Hill’s Seattle Central Community College where Monday the 2013 spring quarter begins.

From 2010-2011 to the 2011-2012 years Seattle Central and its Seattle Vocational Institute component in the Central District combined have seen a drop in enrollment of more than 1,200 students. The 6% dip to 18,800 total students between the two institutions comes amid an improving economy and an ongoing population increase in the city.

Seattle Central specifically as of fall 2011 had about 9,600 students enrolled. The district has been watching these numbers carefully and say it has a “10-point plan” to address the dropping numbers.

Enrollement info-Screenshot by SGS“Our colleges formed an Enrollment and Marketing Taskforce last summer with representatives from Student Services, Instruction, and Marketing, with a goal of reviewing and improving the process of student enrollment – from learning about our colleges to getting into classes,” said Patricia Paquette, communications director for the district. Paquette and SCCD vice-chancellor Carin Weiss chair the Enrollment and Marketing Taskforce hoping to fill classrooms.

The group’s 10-point plan is broken up into four segments:

  1. A district wide advertising campaign, contacting students directly, increasing funding options, publicizing payment options, and adding and marketing courses mid-quarter. Perhaps you have already seen their ads on the 8, but if not it appears more are to come. Paquette tells CHS major facets of the plan will include, “email reminders to students who had applied and reminding them of deadlines
  2. Extending the tuition payment deadline and publicizing the tuition installment payment plan
  3. Increasing emergency funds and scholarships
  4. Adding compressed programs after the quarter had started to accommodate students enrolling later.”

The plan is centered on a group of major challenges including a “lack of awareness of educational opportunities,” students applying to the district but not enrolling and the increased cost of attendance.

A SCCC student will pay $106.84 per standard credit this quarter — a full load would weigh in around $2,166.

Despite the overall drop in enrollment, one student demographic has seen a massive increase. International students at SCCC have increased by 50% since 2007 representing 1,528 students according to 2011-2012 stats. The school is now deeply invested in the growth of this group. International students pay more than twice as much in tuition as in-state students and are also more likely to arrange housing through SCCC.

The school is working fast on creating a campus international center to meet this rising demand. The current international center housed next to Molly Moon on Pine will be relocating to a significantly larger space on the SCCC main campus taking over the former childcare center. The space is currently undergoing a complete overhaul.

This increased international enrollment has not gone unnoticed as the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation donated $3.5 million dollars to Seattle Central in order to “to increase digital, career, and college-readiness skills of adult English learners” according to a December press release.

The multi-million grant “means our colleges can develop innovative, technology-based tools to tap the potential of a growing and under-served population” said State Board for Community and Technical Colleges executive director Marty Brown in the release. The grant will go towards a pilot program called Integrated Basic Education and Skills Training which the release says “targets adult learners in the lowest three levels of English as a Second Language” and “will increase their English language, digital and career-readiness skills with fewer hours of instruction than those in traditional programs.”

In 2007 the district as a whole had 1,400 enrolled in telecourses. Telecourses are courses sent via the mail in the form of packets and returned to teachers as students’ progress. In 2007 about 6,000 students took online courses (this metric is for state funded students, not total headcount) with only 716 students taking online-in-person hybrid courses. A measurement for 2011-2012 saw telecourses drop to about 800, online courses up to about 7,000 (actually a drop since 2008), and hybrid courses continue to see annual growth, now reaching 2,409 students.

Sebastian Garrett-Singh is a community news blogger and runs a hyperlocal news blog for Downtown Seattle. You can follow the Downtown news @Fifthaveseattle.

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16 thoughts on “Seattle Central sees drop in enrollment as international, technology learning opportunities grow

  1. “International students at SCCC have increased by 50% since 2007 representing 1,528 students according to 2011-2012 stats. The school is now deeply invested in the growth of this group.”

    This is exactly why I quit going to SCCC. I’m part of the drop in enrollment. Because I was taking classes with people who had no comprehension of basic skills in English. How can one be graded against someone who barely speaks and writes the language being taught in? And most classes involve some kind of peer review or peer workshopping and it’s the same frustration. You’re placed in a group with at least one other person who can barely speak and write in English. I don’t know how some of these international students passed the exam to be allowed to study at SCCC. Teachers have expressed the same frustration, but as the article points out, they pay a huge amount more in tuition and therefore SCCC only cares about them and their money.

    • Well, the alternative is to either increase state taxes or raise tuition because as you might now, higher education in the state is hurting, with salary freezes for employees for the last few years.

    • Do international students actually have to pass a test to enroll at SCCC? If so, what does it consist of? Does anyone know?

      I don’t think local students must pass a test…they just have to have a high school diploma to enroll.

      • My understanding is there’s not a pass/fail ‘test’ but rather a placement test to gauge proficiency and assign a level accordingly. In the end, it’s not about having students who are ‘smart’ (The international program is almost 100% an english-learning program, some students just happen to take other classes when their english gets better).

        Rather, it really is about the significant amounts of tution money the int’l students dump into the school. It’s funny, though, because it would be nice if that translated into lower costs for in-state students. $800-1000 a month is more than a month’s wages at the minimum wage (about) and the stacks of money from the int’l students is sinking into the black hole instead of increasing affordability for those who need it most.

  2. While I did complete my AAS at Seattle Central, I passed on completing my undergrad requirements for transfer to UW, there partly because of lack of funds. When I questioned administration advisers as to why I couldn’t receive more assistance, their direct reply was they were providing more money towards attracting and keeping more international students by giving them more assistance than resident students.

    To me, this seems totally backwards to a community college’s supposed goals of providing for job training and educational opportunities for residents to keep our communities educated and well-trained. i.e. keep the education and jobs growing in our city. International students take their job skills which they learned with financial assistance, then take them back home out of country. This is no way to support our community’s needs for educated and skilled employees.

    • You were given false information. The amount that an institution can provide to students through financial aid is mandated by the federal gov’t and the state. Those monies have absolutely nothing to do with international student recruitment, and international students cannot receive federal or state aid.

  3. I wonder how much the enrollment spike and then drop off is due to the economy. Community colleges often see enrollment spikes in recessions as folks go to school for training.

  4. How much of the enrollment drop is due to the increase in tuition over the last five years? It looks like its just about doubled in that time. That, and I am hearing from some students that its difficult to get into the classes they need, when they need them. And fewer students are willing to take out loans now than before, because they are simply not able to find adequate employment after with which to pay those loans. There are likely many factors here beyond what the article cites.

    • Good luck on the loan front; Seattle Community College campuses do not participate in federal student loan programs. This means ‘loans’ as they apply to the college would be only bank loans at higher interest rates, arranged without the involvement of the college–hardly an acceptable choice for lower (and even middle) income individuals.

  5. It’s no wonder the International programs are growing — college reps are traveling abroad, courting affluent families from afar as a part of recruitment efforts. Upper adminstrators are plowing along with their agendas, not listening to the concerns of the community. They’ve dedicated a huge portion of what was previously dedicated to local students (classrooms, office space, support services like child care which was eliminated). If they put those kind of efforts to supporting local students perhaps enrollment wouldn’t have dropped. They’re taking the easy way out of their financial challenges. Local enrollment will continue to drop and if the need for International diminishes as well, we’ll see what a real dilemma looks like. We’re busy educating the global world and the resulting loss — an uneducated generation of Americans — will be a rude awakening. Time to start setting ourselves up to serve the next leaders of the world, those going home with our diplomas in hand.

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  8. This author of this article makes a number of critical mistakes that do not help readers to understand the causes and effects of changing enrollments.

    The Seattle Community Colleges have made administrative errors in closing vital programs to save money and in overemphasizing international education as a revenue stream, just as Washington State legislators have erred by reducing educational funding. But the drop in enrollment at all colleges is primarily related to the recovering economy and rising tuition rates and not to the termination of programs or influx of foreign students. As Americans have returned to work, fewer are coming to SCCC to take classes or get retraining, and as costs to students have spiked, fewer can afford to pay for an education. None of this can be blamed on international students. If anything, Americans should thank them for funding what Olympia will not.

    The article incorrectly links a $3.5 million grant from the Gates Foundation to International Education Programs. None of this money goes to IEP, which serves international students in the US on temporary visas. IEP is entirely supported by foreign student tuition — funds coming from abroad — and it generates a great deal of money for the college. The Gates grant will instead help students in the Basic and Transitional Studies Program, a majority of whom are immigrants and green card holders enrolled in state-funded classes. Please don’t conflate these two student populations.

    While I sympathize with students who speak English as a first language who find working with ESL students frustrating, particularly when doing peer work, I hope they can learn to look at international students as a multicultural resource and an opportunity for enriching educational experiences. I agree that some second-language speakers who test into credit classes are not properly prepared, but this is primarily an issue of raising the qualifying threshold on the IELTS test, something administrators focused on low enrollment are loath to do.