Community colleges nationwide are facing serious declines in enrollment and have been for almost ten years as adult learners are returning to the workforce due to the improving economy, but adding to that is a demographic change where fewer students are graduating from high schools and by 2025 it’s expected that drop will accelerate. Combined with these factors, state and federal legislators have been tightening the purse strings until the colleges “improve graduation and completion rates and increase the number of students transferring to four-year institutions.”
In other words, Erie County seems determined to build a community college at the exact time when headwinds are strongest and colleges already established are cutting back.
Community colleges tend to be counter-cyclical, which means their enrollments go up when employment goes down, unfortunately the combination of other factors listed above along with the many other education and training options available today to prospective students that didn’t even exist ten years ago, means publicly funded community colleges are an institution past their prime.
Within Erie County, Mercyhurst recently announced their intention to pull the plug on their North East campus and consolidate those programs into their main campus in Erie. This follows a trend nationwide of decreasing enrollments leading to cost cutting measures where it is predicted 25 percent of small colleges will fail in the next two decades.
The financial issues these trends cause in any community college, compound the difficulty in trying to add new courses to address rapidly changing technologies and results in a curriculum that can’t keep up.
None of this information is hard to find, so it’s curious that community college proponents seem so unaware of it or have simply chosen to ignore it. Do they believe Erie County is somehow immune to trends nationwide? If so, an explanation of why that would be is surely warranted.
Make no mistake, education and training is absolutely necessary to succeed in the current economy, but this project seems very ill advised. Again, as already noted, seeing the details of what they are proposing would go a long way to determining how much actual thought has gone into it.