Enrollment boost might be due to deregulation

By Bridie Isensee
The Facts
3/17/2005

The number of applicants to Alvin Community College rose 7.75 percent in fall 2004, and college officials believe the trend will continue with tuition at Texas public universities climbing every year.

In 2003, the Legislature deregulated tuition, transferring its tuition-setting authority to individual public colleges. As a result, tuition at public universities has risen sharply. The weighted average total cost for tuition and fees of a resident student with an average classload has increased 38.5 percent — from $2,429 in the 2003 school year to $3,364 this school year, said Robin Gerrow, a University of Texas at Austin spokeswoman. The proposed cost for next school year is $3,523, which represents a 45 percent increase since 2002, she said.

Community colleges, especially in urban areas, believe they are experiencing a growing ripple effect. Since 2002, on-campus enrollment at Alvin Community College has increased from 3,559 to 3,664, or about 3 percent, said JoAn Anderson, associate dean of student services.

More telling is the rising number of applicants. In fall 2004, the college received 1,626 applications, compared to 1,509 the year before, Anderson said. Since fall 2002, the number of applicants has risen nearly 14 percent.

In addition, a record number of Alvin High School students have sent the community college their SAT scores this year, although the exact number is not yet available, said Alvin Community College President Rodney Allbright. Two-year colleges don't use the scores for admission since they have open admissions, Anderson said.

Allbright attributed the trend, in part, to tuition deregulation.

"We anticipated when they deregulated it that it would have an impact on us because, to be honest, there will be some students unable to go to the university because of the increase of tuition," Allbright said.

The college's administration is working to stay ahead of the curve since they anticipate enrollment numbers to follow closely behind, he said.

"We don't think the full impact has hit yet, but we're already seeing signs of that," Allbright said. "We're sort of in a transition phase. It's coming, it's here, it's just not full fledged commitment by the students."

In contrast, Brazosport College officials do not believe tuition deregulation has affected its enrollment, said Ken Tasa, dean for educational programs and services. Enrollment fell slightly in 2004, he said.

However, enrollment is growing in transfer curriculum, which is a way to see how many students are taking classes toward a four-year degree, said college President Millicent Valek. The college anticipates transfer classes to increasesince students pursuing bachelor degrees will do more course work at community colleges because of their affordability, she said.

"My guess is that that will be part of the college that continues to grow at maybe a faster rate than the technical area," Valek said.

Brazosport College likely will gather data to see whether tuition deregulation is having an impact on the campus, Tasa said.

The Texas Association of Community Colleges has watched enrollment at two-year schools rise across the board, said Steve Johnson, external relations coordinator. Tuition deregulation's role in that trend in unknown because no quantitative analysis has been done, he said.

"Our sense is that tuition deregulation is playing some kind of component, but it's hard to say kids that were considering a four-year institution are now rolling back and considering a two-year institution," Johnson said.

Bridie Isensee is a reporter for The Facts. Contact her at (979) 237-0149.