- In an "unusual" pattern for community colleges that "bucked the traditional countercyclical enrollment trend," Texas has helped stabilize enrollment that may have otherwise been absorbed by the state's strong labor market, Moody's analysts said in a report emailed to Education Dive. Analysts attributed the trend to strong population growth and participation in dual-enrollment programs statewide.
- Some of the strongest enrollment growth is occurring in the Dallas/Fort Worth and Houston suburbs, where corporate relocations and diversifying economies have added population in recent years. Statewide, enrollment saw only modest declines from 2010 to 2017, with a 0.5% median increase from 2016 to 2017 as a result of gains in suburban areas.
- Further enrollment growth is expected with the next economic downturn, analysts said. Districts can plan ahead by leveraging their growing property tax revenues to increase their capacity in time to capture expected higher tuition and state revenues.
Because of its strong workforce ties, community college enrollment typically lags when the job market is strong.
Data from the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center show enrollment at two-year public colleges dropped 22.5% since 2010, when the recession's high unemployment pushed many into college. Enrollment across all higher education sectors (including for-profits) fell 9.8% during that time.
However, as the Moody's report notes, there have been spots of growth. Population increases in specific markets, the return of year-round Pell Grants and more interest in dual enrollment programs have all helped counter the effects of post-recession attrition from community colleges.
In Texas alone, the number of students in dual-enrollment programs rose 127% from 2007 to 2017. Moody's credits increased awareness of such programs among new and existing residents as well as the state's 60x30TX Higher Education Plan, which has a workforce attainment objective and promotes dual credit.
In addition to growth in dual-enrollment programs nationwide, more interest in adult learners as well as the implementation of free college programs are helping to direct learners to community colleges.
Moody's expects the next economic downturn to continue to raise enrollment at those institutions. However, other reports cite headwinds such as fewer high school graduates and dwindling state funding that could reverse or stunt the impact of that trend.