Local higher education officials speak on enrollment status for Fall 2021

Education

AMARILLO, Texas (KAMR/KCIT) — As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to impact the lives of individuals throughout the state of Texas, community colleges throughout the state have seen an overall decrease in enrollment since the fall of 2019. 

According to data from the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board, public two-year colleges have seen a decrease of enrollment of 10.7% since the fall of 2019. Over the past year, institutions throughout the state continued to see a 1% decrease in enrollment since the fall of 2020. 

Like most community colleges, Amarillo College saw an initial decrease in enrollment from the fall of 2019 to the fall of 2020, decreasing from 9,809 students to 9,220 students. However, in the fall of 2021, the college’s enrollment rose slightly from 2020, reporting 9,283 students, an increase of 0.68% from 2020. 

While the percentage is not a robust example of growth, Bob Austin, the college’s vice president of enrollment management at Amarillo College, said an increase of enrollment of any kind is worthy of celebration.

“I mean, we haven’t bounced completely back. We’d love to meet or exceed where we were in the fall of 2019. So like other community colleges, we’re still digging out,” he said. “We did see a drop in enrollment for the fall of ‘20. To outperform the fall of ‘20, that’s progress. A lot of schools haven’t, but we have a ways to go to get back to where we want to be.” 

Austin highlighted certain things that Amarillo College is doing to help the college’s enrollment, including their use of the federal government funds allocated to the college from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security, or CARES Act, and the American Rescue Plan Act. Austin also said another thing that was helpful was the choice officials made to start the Fall 2021 semester with face-to-face instruction, making the college experience as normal as possible for students. 

However, Austin also highlighted the THRIVE Scholarship, which has been in place since 2018, in how the college has maintained its enrollment. According to previous reports by MyHighPlains.com, the THRIVE Scholarship is an opportunity for high school seniors in the Amarillo Independent School District to attend Amarillo College for 60 credit hours, or three years, at no charge. 

According to data from the college, Amarillo College saw an increase of nearly 9% of new students from the fall of 2020 to the fall of 2021. 

“Our new student enrollment was up this fall. Our returning student enrollment was down just a bit. I think one of the advantages over other community colleges in Texas… is that we have a really great… scholarship available to students who graduate from AISD high schools,” Austin said. “The four AISD high schools are our four largest feeder schools so having that money available and having that opportunity available… I think that’s a really big deal.”

Austin hopes this trend of increased enrollment serves as a light at the end of the tunnel for Amarillo College. He said that officials at the college are happy with where they are at with enrollment this fall. But the college is aiming to grow moving forward into the future.

“We’re lucky to be in a community where folks are supportive of the college and that we are able to have a really good working relationship with the students,” Austin added. “We feel great that so many students are able to stay enrolled. We just hope that we can continue to kind of bounce back and dig out of this COVID hole.”

What about enrollment trends for other higher education institutions? 

According to data from the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board, public universities saw an increase of 1.7% in enrollment from Fall 2019 to Fall 2021, with health-related programs seeing a 9.7% increase during that same time period. Within the last year, public universities saw an increase of 0.3% in enrollment and health-related programs saw a 6.8% increase during that same time period. 

Since the Fall 2019 semester, West Texas A&M University has seen a decrease in enrollment in both undergraduate and graduate students, according to the university’s institutional research and effectiveness dashboard. The university reported 10,018 students in 2019 and 9,581 students in 2021, a decrease of a little more than 4% in enrollment during that time period. 

However, officials from the university reported an increase of growth for its freshman class, an increase of 7% from Fall 2021. The university also reported an increase of almost 8% in the health sciences program in the university’s College of Nursing and Health Sciences. 

“This is a challenging time for many institutions in higher education,” Neil Terry, the university’s provost and executive vice president for academic affairs, said in a news release from September. “The pandemic might structurally alter some aspects of society and the job market, and West Texas A&M University will respond by making the necessary adjustment to academic programs and student support services.” 

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