Back in September, the Washington State Student Achievement Council released a report detailing the decline of enrollment in public colleges. Among the findings was a consistent decline in enrollment for both CTCs (Community and Technical Colleges) and four-year institutions from the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. According to the report, enrollment fell by 4% and 3%, respectively, for CTCs and four-year institutions from 2021 to 2022.
This decline in enrollment, according to the Student Achievement Council, represents a setback in terms of the state’s educational attainment goals, as completion of a post-secondary credential (associate degree, bachelor’s degree, etc) is seen as “critical to fulfilling the demand for a skilled workforce.” Adding on to the concerns, “the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic tended to disproportionately impact students who have been historically underserved by the higher education system.”
Given that Bellevue College’s statement of core values includes an embracement of “the belief that widespread access to excellent post-secondary education is the cornerstone of a democratic society,” the state-wide decline in enrollment should prompt a closer investigation into the statistics and policies that define enrollment at Bellevue College.
According to the Director of Enrollment Services, Anneke Hercules, Bellevue College actually experienced an increase in student enrollment from last fall quarter to this fall quarter (12,104 to 12,764), a positive change that she attributes to the recruitment capabilities afforded by the leadership of the new Welcome Center Director and the launching of the Discovery Day event. For reference, the Welcome Center helps guide incoming students toward their academic paths, and Discovery Day is an upcoming event that focuses on the various degrees, certificates and career training programs that are offered at Bellevue College.
Based on the total enrollment numbers, it seems as though the situation is improving and Bellevue College is back on track to meet the goal of providing a skilled workforce through enrollment. As previously mentioned, however, the measurement of Washington State’s educational attainment goals isn’t evaluated solely through total enrollment statistics. The state has concerns about the outsized impact of the pandemic on historically underserved groups (this includes students of color and students from families with lower incomes). Concerns about student diversity and the affordability of college are paramount to understanding why students decide to enroll or not: A survey conducted by the Lumina Foundation and Gallup in 2022 found that 55% of unenrolled adults cited the “cost of the degree/credential program” as an important factor in their lack of enrollment. Minority adults were more likely than their white peers to cite a variety of reasons as barriers to enrollment.
In order to determine if Bellevue College’s enrollment trends are actually indicative of positive progress toward Washington state educational attainment goals, we would need to look at enrollment statistics for racial and economic diversity. From the fall quarter in 2021 to the fall quarter in 2022 (total enrollment was still falling at this time), the total number of African-American students enrolled increased (630 to 641), the percentage of Asian students enrolled increased (25.5% to 27%), and the percentage of Hispanic students enrolled decreased (6.3% to 6%). Meanwhile, the number of students receiving need-based aid jumped drastically from 572 to 2139. Based on the limited sample of data accessed, it seems reasonable to assume that Bellevue College has made significant strides in providing opportunities for financially disadvantaged students. This trend checks out with Enrollment Services Director Hercules’ report that the Financial Aid department has resumed outreach events at local schools and that Enrollment Services has revamped efforts to encourage admitted students to apply for financial aid. As for racial diversity within the enrollment process at Bellevue College, there are encouraging signs about the growing population of minority students, though it remains to be seen which demographic group will be affected most by the post-pandemic reality.