CMC enrollment flat as fall session begins with COVID-19 precautions
Glenwood Springs Post Independent
A new academic semester has begun for Colorado Mountain College sites across the seven-county special college district, but with fewer students in actual classrooms due to COVID-19 concerns and generally flat enrollment compared with last fall.
“We’re definitely seeing a fall like we’ve never really seen, as far as enrollment patterns,” said Shane Larson, vice president for CMC student affairs.
So far, with some course enrollments still trickling in, “We are looking pretty flat compared to a year ago,” Larson said.
A year ago was, of course, before the COVID-19 pandemic that forced schools across the country, including colleges, to suspend in-person classes and conclude the year with online distance learning.
CMC continued with the online format for its summer session, and announced in June that it would offer a flexible mix of both video classes and face-to-face components, such as small group projects and discussions.
Certain courses that cannot be done remotely are still being offered in person at designated times, but with strict adherence to public health guidelines to prevent spread of COVID-19, such as mandatory mask-wearing and physical distancing.
“These courses may have parts of the course online, or using videoconferencing technology like Webex or Zoom, but will require a student to be physically present for all or portions of the course,” according to CMC’s “Fall 2020 Trail Map.”
Students taking courses that do not require in-person attendance, a set class time or group projects are following a syllabus to complete their coursework online within the semester time frame.
Because open registration for the fall semester was pushed back until mid-June, instead of the usual May opening, enrollment numbers were just being finalized before the semester began Aug. 24, Larson said.
“A big part of our enrollment is the concurrent high school students who are taking college courses,” he said. “Since they have been in turmoil, it has delayed a lot of those registrations, as well.”
Because residence halls at Spring Valley outside Glenwood Springs, and in Steamboat Springs and Leadville, have limited capacity due to the COVID restrictions, there are fewer students on campus than usual.
Residence halls have more single rooms and a limited number of double rooms. For the 2020-21 academic year, the college also has waived the requirement that new students live on campus.
Larson said CMC was shooting to have its residence halls at about 60% to 70% capacity, within those restrictions.
Spring Valley came in closer to 50%, and Leadville and Steamboat are both at about 60% capacity.
“We tried to hold a lot of those rooms for students who are in more of an in-person format,” Larson said. That would include students in the vet-tech, nursing and the Isaacson School of New Media programs, where lab work is essential, he said.
Students living off campus are still allowed on campuses for technology needs to complete coursework, virtual tutoring, advising and communications with instructors.
Based on preliminary numbers, compared with the same period before the start of fall semester 2019, college-wide full-time equivalency has increased approximately 1% for credit classes.
“Enrollment in other classes — including English as a second language and high school equivalency — appears similar to the same time last year,” according to a news release that went out last week.
The college had anticipated that its non-credit, community education courses would have low enrollment, since fewer of those courses were scheduled due to their face-to-face nature.
“That was an impact of precautionary measures taken regarding COVID-19,” according to the release. “All enrollment data is expected to change over the coming weeks, however, in part because registration for concurrent enrollment courses is delayed in many CMC district high schools this year.”
Larson added that until high school students can connect with their school counselors, it will be hard to know how concurrent enrollment will be impacted.
The college also stepped up its marketing for this year’s high school graduates who had planned to go to a four-year university but deferred for a year, and even those who had already been at another institution, to offer CMC as an option, Larson said.
“It’s hard to track student intentions and goals when they enroll, so we don’t have any data tracking that,” he said.
CMC did, however, expand its full-ride Presidents Scholarship program to include not only this year’s graduates, but any student who graduated high school in the past four years.
“We do have our biggest class of presidents scholars coming in,” Larson said.
The summer semester, during which CMC offered free tuition for certain groups of students impacted by the COVID-19 shutdowns, including continuing education students, did see greater enrollment numbers.
“Over 60% of the students who attended were continuing students (from the spring semester),” Larson said. “We were really happy to see so many of our active students take advantage of the free summer.”
In-district summer students earned 68% more credits compared with summer 2019. Overall, including non-local students, credits earned were up 61%, he said, from 9,028 credits earned in summer 2019 to 14,508 for the just-completed summer session.
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While Aspen schools typically struggle with substitute positions, this year especially is a struggle as classes deal with changing situations.