Flexible offerings, financial support help boost enrollment

by Washington County Community College

Washington County Community College (WCCC) is emerging from the Covid-19 pandemic stronger than ever.

Student enrollment numbers at the Maine college are up 25% compared to this time last year and higher than any time over the previous five-year period.  The enrollment increase is attributed to many factors, including new short-term training pathways that lead students into degree or certificate programs, an increase in flexibility for students through online and virtual courses, new academic programs, focused efforts to engage adult learners, and the new Free College Scholarship for recent high school graduates.

Total headcount this fall is 505 students, up from 405 students last year, according to the official tally on October 15. First-time student enrollment is up 44% from last year.   In addition to a double-digit increase in headcount and new students, WCCC has a 14% increase in credit hours, meaning more students are taking more classes.  Twenty-one percent of the total headcount is comprised of dual and concurrent enrollment of high school students and 25% are students taking advantage of short-term trainings offering college credit.

Short-term, flexible and new offerings

The college has created new short-term training options with many offering free college credit and a clear path to future educational opportunities for students. The expansion of short-term training programs is funded through the Maine Jobs and Recovery Plan, Maine Quality Centers, and a grant from the Harold Alfond Foundation.  This funding has allowed for increased capacity in the Division of Workforce and Professional Development and has created dedicated staff member positions to assist each student with finding their unique pathway for success.

One example of this is the hybrid and electric vehicle industry training offered this summer with connections to our Automotive Technology Program. Another example of this is the Partners in Entrepreneurial Pathways (PEP) course sequence which has led to an enrollment increase in both the business management and entrepreneurship programs after students completed the PEP short-term training and then were accepted as degree seeking students at the college.

During the pandemic, faculty members mastered technologies and learned effective practices for online teaching and learning.  This allowed the college to transform several programs into fully online offerings and others into virtual offerings through web-enabled face-to-face video conferencing.  These programs have seen enrollment increases with the new flexibility now available to students who may be unable to travel to campus to attend in-person courses due to lack of transportation, family obligations or other reasons.

“The enrollment increases at WCCC are a direct result of the hard work of our faculty, staff, and students.  Across our campus, many individuals have been involved in creating and executing greater opportunities for improving the value proposition of our offerings to support local and regional workforce and economic development needs in Washington County,” President Susan Mingo said.  “I couldn’t be prouder of our institution and the people that work tirelessly in support of our students and the greater Washington County community.”

WCCC also has created new academic programs to meet the ever-changing needs of the communities it serves.

The new substance use and recovery program started as a short-term workforce training and then expanded to a full academic program of study and prepares students to take the State of Maine test to become Certified Alcohol and Drug Counselors.  A new concentration focused on adventure therapy was added to the outdoor leadership program curriculum and allows students to learn in both a wilderness adventure experience as well as counseling from the human services perspective.  The health occupations program started this fall semester and allows students to prepare for a wide variety of careers in the healthcare industry, including for the new nursing cohort being offered through a partnership between Eastern Maine Community College and Washington County Community College.

The college also is in the planning process for a self-sustaining nursing program directly at WCCC through additional state and private funding.

Engaging adult learners

For several years, WCCC has focused on efforts to engage adult learners, as there are many individuals across the state that have completed some college education but not received a degree.

This fall semester, 49% of degree seeking students at WCCC are adult learners (24 years or older). The college has expanded access and support for adult learners and parent students through scholarship funds and the creation of the Student Advocacy and Resource Center which opened last fall.  The center offers family friendly programming and resources in an effort to support adult learners and parent students.

In recognizing that debt is a barrier to adult learners completing their college credential and bettering their lives, the Return, Resume, Reward forgiveness policy at WCCC eliminates up to $2,000 in past debt for returning students who return to the college and maintain success in their academic plan.

Almost half of WCCC’s degree seeking students enrolled this fall (48%) are eligible for the Free College Scholarship because they graduated from high school or earned a Hi-SET diploma in 2020, 2021 and 2022.  The Free College Scholarship is funded with a one-time $20 million state allocation.

Once travel restrictions were loosened during the pandemic and after the Free College Scholarship was announced in April of this year, WCCC significantly increased marketing and outreach efforts and admissions representatives traveled to many community parades, fairs, festivals as well as high schools and career and technical centers across Maine to spread the word about the life changing opportunity.

“The Free College Scholarship is truly a life changing opportunity for students as it removes the financial barrier of attaining a college credential while opening the door for students who decided not to attend college during the height of the Covid-19 pandemic,” said Tyler Stoldt, dean of enrollment management and student services.

This article was originally posted here.