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HCC taking the lead in student enrollment growth

January 13, 2013|By JULIE E. GREENE | julieg@herald-mail.com

Hagerstown Community College officials said they were pleased to see the community college lead all community colleges and most colleges and universities in Maryland, percentage-wise, in enrollment growth last fall.

At 6.8 percent, HCC had a higher percentage increase in fall enrollment than other community colleges, University of Maryland System campuses and many private colleges, according to the Maryland Higher Education Commission’s December 2012 report on opening fall enrollment.

Only five independent colleges and universities in the state had a higher percentage increase in student enrollment last fall than HCC, according to report data.

Overall enrollment grew from 4,714 students in the fall of 2011 at HCC to 5,034 students in the fall of 2012, according to report data.

While full-time enrollment decreased for a second straight year, from 1,467 students in 2011 to 1,385 students in 2012, part-time enrollment increased 12.4 percent, pushing up overall enrollment, according to the data.

In the fall, HCC had 3,649 part-time students, compared with 3,247 in fall 2011.

HCC President Guy Altieri listed several reasons for the increased number of part-time students, including that HCC began allowing students to take two courses in one night, the addition of several online course offerings and the difficulty students have in paying for college.

Financial strain

Students are finding it increasingly difficult to finance their education, so many need to hold a job and go to school at the same time, Altieri said.

Most community colleges and universities in the state have seen declines in enrollment, something Altieri said is due to students financing their education, students reluctant to take out loans, the lack of available scholarships and difficult economic times in general.

HCC is trying to respond to those factors by expanding its evening course offerings so students can take two courses in one evening rather than just one, Altieri said.

That allows students to earn more credits at night and save money on the “little things” such as gasoline for fewer trips to the campus, Altieri said.

HCC did increase its tuition last year.

The county and state funding HCC receives, when viewed on a per-student basis, has gone down significantly in recent years, Altieri said.

“The trustees have had no choice but to make modest increases to the tuition, and this is not a period in time where students find tuition increases affordable,” Altieri said.

Tuition rates went up approximately 3 percent from the spring of 2012 to the fall of that year, according to expense charts.

The tuition per credit hour for a Washington County resident increased from $103 to $106, the rate for out-of-county residents went from $161 to $166, and the price for out-of-state residents increased from $212 to $218, according to the charts.

Altieri said HCC officials are working to expand fundraising for scholarships.

Stacey Lowman, HCC’s executive director of college advancement, said the HCC Foundation has had an upswing in available dollars for scholarships each year.

The foundation’s total endowment for the fiscal year ending June 30, 2012, was $7.9 million, resulting in $366,359 in scholarships for the 2011-12 school year, Lowman said. Interest from endowments generates money for scholarships.

For the 2010-11 school year, the foundation had “just less than” $7.9 million, resulting in $359,894 in scholarships, she said. The prior school year, 2009-10, the foundation’s total endowment was $6.8 million, resulting in $314,234 in scholarships.

The college also has received two $10,000 grants from Citi in the past two years to help specific groups of students, according to a news release from HCC and a voicemail message from Anne Shepard, grants development director. The latest grant provides partial grants to students who previously completed a GED, to help them finish their study program, Shepard said.

Online growth

Altieri said enrollment for online courses is “just going through the ceiling.”

HCC had a 13 percent increase in the number of students taking online courses from fall 2011 to fall 2012, going from 1,050 students taking online courses for 4,375 credits in early fall 2011 to 1,186 students taking online courses for 5,064 credits in early fall 2012, according to data provided by HCC.

In March 2012, HCC announced it received approval from the Middle States Commission on Higher Education to expand its online course offerings.

Altieri said that allowed HCC to offer some degree programs, not just certificate programs, completely online.

Programs now available entirely online include associate degrees in business administration, general studies, and arts and sciences, as well as several certificate and letters of recognition programs, according to a news release from HCC. The accreditation allows credits from those programs to be easily transferred to other colleges and universities, the release states.

That helps part-time students, who can take online courses and study around their job schedules, Altieri said.

Most of HCC’s general education courses can be taken on campus, online or a mix of the two, Altieri said.

Critics of online courses question their rigor and the identity of who is taking them, he said.

Altieri said between 75 percent to 80 percent of HCC’s faculty is trained to deliver online courses. Faculty members are trained to provide online instruction so no quality is lost from the on-campus version, he said.

The same learning outcomes and testing standards are expected, regardless of whether a student takes a course on campus, online or a mix of the two, Altieri said.

HCC requires proctored testing for online students and has expanded its testing center to accommodate those students, Altieri said.

Students who live far away can take proctored exams at certified testing centers, and the military will oversee proctored testing for military members taking online courses, Altieri said.

The most popular online courses are less restrictive and allow students to move through the material more rapidly, compared to courses for which students have to be online at the same time, Altieri said. Students can talk to each other in online chatrooms and there are lots of email exchanges between students and teachers, he said.

New programs

HCC officials think adding new programs geared toward career education will attract more full-time students, Altieri said. Those are programs for which students can’t really be part-time students, he said.

In addition to plans to add a police academy program this semester, HCC is building a dental clinic on the Career Programs Building so the college can offer a dental-hygiene program, Altieri said.

HCC is seeking accreditation for the dental-hygiene program, a degree program, to add to its dental-assisting program, he said.

The dental-hygiene program, which will focus on dental cleanings rather than major dental work, could start in the fall or the spring of 2014, he said.

Dentists will serve as instructors and the dental clinic would be open for a limited time during the year. Details about the patient fee structure are yet to be determined, he said.

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