- Associated Press - Friday, June 5, 2015

ASHEVILLE, N.C. (AP) - An improving economy and a dwindling unemployment rate have led to a decline in enrollment at community colleges in western North Carolina, school officials said.

The Asheville Citizen-Times reports (https://avlne.ws/1KRJz1y) Asheville-Buncombe Technical Community College, which is projecting a $1.7 million reduction in state dollars because of lower enrollment numbers, has begun cutting budgets and eliminating some jobs.

Complete numbers for the current fiscal year aren’t yet available, but the community college system says last year enrollment in curriculum and continuing education programs was down in 48 out of 58 North Carolina community colleges.

Both Mayland Community College in Spruce Pine and McDowell Technical Community College saw a drop of 8 percent last year. Isothermal Community College, which serves Rutherford and Polk counties, saw a decrease of 9 percent.

“Community college enrollment is counter-cyclical to the economy. This is the case nationally, not just in North Carolina,” Megan Hoenk, with the N.C. Community College System, said in an email.

A-B Tech officials stress the budget cuts they are making won’t affect the college’s “core mission.” Cuts include eliminating the jobs of six employees. Other positions have been eliminated through attrition. And A-B Tech imposed a 2 percent reduction on each department across the college.

“One of the reasons for our sharp drop off in that 2013-14 year was that we had a particularly steep increase leading up to 2010,” said Michael Gavin, director of marketing and community relations at Isothermal Community College.

To help improve enrollment, Isothermal Community College is working on a marketing campaign targeting older potential students.

“Where we’ve got a really solid base of enrollment is our straight out of high school students because a lot of parents and students have recognized the value of the community college,” Gavin said.

At Southwestern Community College in Sylva, the college eliminated nonessential spending and travel.

While Southwestern saw a drop in enrollment last year, the school is projecting a 3 percent increase in enrollment this year. And projections also indicate higher enrollment in the fall, according to Thom Brooks, executive vice president for instruction and student services.

Brooks credits the school’s efforts to keep students from leaving rather than an influx of new students.

“We’ve implemented a number of steps in the past three to four years to begin addressing that (students dropping out) long term,” Brooks said. “And I think we’re starting to see some effects of that.”

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Information from: The Asheville Citizen-Times, https://www.citizen-times.com

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