According to Dawn Cook, vice president of institutional advancement at WGTC, the current credit enrollment is 6,665 students, a decrease from just more than 7,400 last fall.
Last year was the first drop in enrollment at WGTC in three years.
Mike Light, executive director of communications for the Technical College System of Georgia, said the system as a whole has seen a 5 percent decrease in credit enrollment and listed two possible explanations for why the drops are occurring.
Light cited the overhaul of the HOPE scholarship by the Georgia Legislature last year, which also affected last year’s enrollment numbers.
“Given the tough economy and the number of our students affected by the economy and looking to find a new career, it’s difficult to find the money,” Light said. “Seventy-five percent of our students systemwide received HOPE through the HOPE grant. The changes to the grant had an effect on our students.”
The changes reduced the amount of funds a student can receive from HOPE to $60 per credit hour. The standard cost for a credit hour remained at $75, leaving students to cover the remainder themselves. For students taking on full-time enrollment, the added cost amounts to around $200, not including books or fees.
Light also attributed the decrease to the recovering economy, saying many potential students are choosing to go to work now that there are more jobs available.
“Technical colleges serve as a pretty good barometer for the national economy,” Light said. “When the economy sours, our enrollment numbers go up. When it starts to recover, people start to go back to work.”
Another thing to consider, Light said, is that at some point after three years of enrollment increases, the numbers were bound to level off. He said that since 2008 the number of people in Georgia attending a technical college was around 145,000. Two years ago, the number had increased to 191,000. Most technical colleges began to see increases as the economy faltered and prided themselves on their ability to teach Georgians skills to improve their chances of finding work.
Beyond looking for a skill, Cook said, students at WGTC were looking to expand upon the knowledge they already had.
“Students are coming back to school to learn a skill so they will be employable,” she said. “Others have adjusted to the semester system and are taking more classes.”
Cook said online classes have also seen increased enrollment.
Light said that in the years that enrollment has been increasing, more than 100,000 students have graduated, and the Technical College System boasts high job placement for its graduates.
Light said the Technical College System has been encouraging its students to increase their course load to complete more courses before the first checkpoint under the HOPE grant change is met.
“One of the changes to HOPE was that never before the students on the grant had to get a 3.0 GPA. Most of our students are looking to finish course work before those rules kick in,” he said. “Our students may even be trying, because of the less HOPE money there, taking a full course load to get the full federal Pell grant. Our technical colleges let students know there’s other forms of financial aid — low-interest loans, local scholarships — they’ve done a good job of letting students know what’s available besides HOPE.”
Later in the semester, Light said, the plan is to reach out to students who have not returned to technical colleges for the current semester and putting numbers to the theories.
Despite its enrollment losses, West Georgia Technical College remains the second largest technical college in the state, with campuses in five counties. WGTC also has 1,370 enrolled in its adult education program.