Low unemployment, fewer local high school grads and changing demographics are a few reasons why enrollment at community colleges like Monroe Community College is dropping.
That’s according to a spokesperson at MCC, where enrollment has gone from 18,995 in 2010 to 12,273 students today.
Christine Casalinuovo-Adams is associate vice president of enrollment at the school. She said the college is taking a creative approach to handling falling enrollment.
“No one likes to be in the position where your institution has declining enrollment,” Casalinuovo-Adams said. “But I also think it’s an opportunity for us to do something better.”
MCC launched the Return to Complete program as a pilot last fall and a full program last month. The college reached out to about 7,000 former students in greater Rochester who left without earning their degree and told them they’re welcome to come back.
“When they returned, we helped them with financial aid,” said Casalinuovo-Adams. “We helped them with scholarships. We helped them select their classes. We’ve helped them with career assessment and supporting those students to get to the finish line.”
All the students in the program owed $500 or more to the school and have been out of college for at least 3 years. Their debt will be put on hold while they continue their studies.
So far, the program has been a hit. Casalinuovo-Adams said there are more than 100 students participating.
Another way the school is tackling the issue is by getting “in-tune” with students so they don’t drop out when times get tough.
“We’ve become a Guided Pathways Institute,” Casalinuovo-Adams said. “It’s a national movement to help students understand from the gate what their process is going to be, what the courses are going to be that they’re going to need in order to graduate.”
Casalinuovo-Adams said the Guided Pathways approach creates a closer relationship with students and allows the college to help students with personal issues like food insecurity and financial problems. She said the school has food pantries on both campuses and emergency grant and loan programs to help students through the types of problems that can cause them to leave school early.