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Moving on up: with new programs, new facilities and new training options, a number of technical schools and community colleges are experiencing a tremendous growth spurt.

Each year the U. S. Department of Education's National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) collects enrollment numbers from all U.S. postsecondary institutions to plug into its Integrated Postsecondary Education Data Set system. This survey of postsecondary schools is the basis for determining the fastest-growing two-year community colleges and technical schools. One analysis based on these numbers is found yearly in Community College Week (CCW). Community colleges and technical schools look to such findings for a view of what is happening across the nation and in their own regions.

Because students enroll at various times, the "official count" usually takes place a few weeks after the beginning of the fall semester when enrollment has leveled.

"As we review these numbers each year," says Victor M.H. Borden, associate professor of psychology and associate vice chancellor for information management and institutional research at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis, "we remind readers that this type of enrollment does not capture all of the instructional activity of the nation's vast array of community colleges. Even given the definition provided by NCES, many institutions find it difficult to decide precisely who to count."

Borden, who authored the last CCW report December 6, 2004, led the research to come up with four top-50 lists of the fastest growing public two-year colleges. The four lists were broken down by number of enrollments: fewer than 2,500 students, 2,500 to 4,999 students, 5,000 to 9,999 students and 10,000 or more students. These lists are the result of Borden and his team examining enrollment change over two years (in this case, from the fall of 2002 to the fall of 2003).

"Our analysis requires us to have institutional data for both years," says Borden. Therefore, the examination includes which institutions are new to the system, and which ones that reported in the prior year are missing. Institutions that have reported data for the most recent year but not the prior year are most commonly excluded.

As Borden explains in his report, when institutions that have reported in the prior year are not included in the current data set, more often this is related to problems that the institution had in responding to the survey; however, this may also include institutions that have changed status, such as Miami Dade College, formerly known as Miami Dade Community College, which became a public four-year institution in 2003.

"To make it even more confusing," writes Borden in CCW, "there are some community colleges that now offer four-year degrees but that maintain their status as public two-year colleges."

Borden also says that, to restrict the analysis to public two-year institutions that are eligible for Federal Title IV funds, geographical restrictions are made. Included in the study are institutions located in one of the 50 United States or in the District of Columbia. This excludes institutions in Puerto Rico and other U.S. protectorates, such as Guam and American Samoa.

After all this data has been processed, what are the findings of this last survey?

"The data show an interesting trend in public two-year college enrollments," states Borden. "Growth is declining only in large institutions located in large population centers. Smaller institutions are growing in all areas, and especially in the large population centers. And large institutions located in smaller population areas also experienced enrollment increases. It appears then that smaller institutions are doing better in larger population centers, whereas all institutions are growing in smaller population centers."

Borden also points out that it is important to remember that the largest number of students are enrolled in the larger institutions located in larger population centers. "However, enrollment change, as measured in percentage growth, is greater in the smaller institutions and in the smaller population centers."

Here then is a look at some of the fastest-growing community colleges and career-technical schools.

Southwest Wisconsin Technical College

Southwest Wisconsin Technical College (SWTC) is located in the beautiful hills and valleys of southwestern Wisconsin and rated as the number-one fastest-growing technical college in the 2,500 to 4,999 student enrollment category. A count of SWTC's full-time equivalent students shows a 27.5 percent increase over the last five years, and over that same five-year period, the number of graduating students has increased an impressive 48 percent.

This school consistently ranks in the top five of Wisconsin's 16 technical colleges in its ability to enroll graduates from high schools in the Southwest Tech District directly into technical education. One of the reasons is that SWTC offers well-equipped shops and labs with state-of-the-art technology to prepare students for careers in agriculture, business, the health industry, public safety, the service industry and more.

SWTC's comprehensive technical education in nursing and allied health is in high demand. Among the many health occupations SWTC prepares students for are: clinical laboratory technician, dental assistant, medical assistant, medical coding specialist, nursing assistant, practical nursing, registered nurse and radiography.

These programs have positioned SWTC as the primary educator of emergency response personnel, firefighters and EMTs in southwestern Wisconsin.

Aside from the very popular health industry curriculum, SWTC offers a wide variety of other programs that are generally filled to capacity and often wait listed. Among these are bricklaying and masonry, building trades and carpentry, automotive technician, auto collision repair and refinish technician, ag power and equipment technician, criminal justice, accounting, information technology, barber and cosmetologist, and welding.

SWTC also has the only golf course management program of its type in Wisconsin. Students can earn two-year associate's degrees that emphasize both internal and external golf course operations.

In addition, SWTC boasts the only engine machining program among the technical colleges in the state, training students to become skilled machinists in the building and rebuilding of internal combustion engines for automobiles.

Wisconsin's agrarian roots are reflected in SWTC's wide agricultural curriculum. From agribusiness/science technician to dairy herd management, students interested in this field will find the best in agriculture education. Most students in these programs participate in the national organization Postsecondary Agricultural Students (PAS), and eight have attained national PAS positions, including a national president.

SWTC believes in developing industry and community relationships, so its students can be found participating in special projects throughout the neighboring areas. The bricklaying and masonry students have built a large, permanent concession stand for the local baseball and recreational parks, and students from the building trades and carpentry program are building a three-bedroom home that will later be sold. Ag power students hold regular farm safety seminars. These service activities strengthen the ties between Southwest Tech, local industry and the surrounding communities.

The continued growth at SWTC is witnessed in the standing-room-only orientations, wait lists and the need to lease off-campus facilities to house filled-to-capacity programs. The administration, in cooperation with the Southwest Tech District Board, is developing a master plan to map out facilities utilization and expansion of the Fennimore campus over the next decade.

"Compared to the problems that languishing institutions must confront," says Southwest Tech President Karen R. Knox, "the challenges we face are good ones to have."

As SWTC prepares for future growth in both enrollment and building expansions, the key to success is keeping all things in proper perspective.

"One of our most crucial responsibilities as college leaders is looking thoughtfully toward the future," says Knox. "For it to become a reality that will confer great benefits, we must plan methodically and insightfully, and properly balance risk and reward."

Bishop State Community College

Located in Mobile, Alabama, Bishop State Community College falls into the 5,000 to 9,999 range, just inching across with its history-making enrollment of 5,222 in fall 2003. Bishop State was ranked as the second-fastest-growing community college in this category. Offering a variety of technical programs at different campuses, Bishop State broke ground in January 2004 to build a 62,400-square-foot technology center to accommodate its 18 percent growth.

Ted LaBay, instructor and head of the business division, estimates that 40 percent of the college's students take classes in business or computers. And with enrollment growing, the new facility will be able to handle the challenges of space and scheduling changes.

"Everyone at Bishop State is excited about the new Business and Technology Center," says Bishop State President D. Yvonne Kennedy. "We look forward to continuing to provide education opportunities and leadership to the community."

It is not surprising that Bishop State's enrollment is on the rise. There is a technical program to meet almost every field of interest including: air conditioning and refrigeration, automotive technology, automotive body repair, barbering and hairstyling, commercial food service, drafting and design technology, electrical technology, graphic communications technology, jewelry design, masonry, tailoring and alterations, watch repair and welding.

Bishop State also provides the option of online classes. The program started in fall 2000, offering classes such as biology, business, criminal justice, English, family and consumer sciences, health information technology, physical therapist assistant and sociology. There was a 546-student enrollment for online classes this past spring semester at Bishop State, a number that is sure to grow.

Oklahoma City Community College

Coming in sixth on the fastest-growing community college list of 10,000 or more students is Oklahoma City Community College (OKCCC). As one of the top 10 in this category, OKCCC experienced an 11 percent growth at the time the report was compiled and has already experienced an increase of 5.4 percent over last year's spring enrollment. Some of OKCCC's success can be attributed to its technical health programs.

"As the demand for qualified health care professionals in Oklahoma and throughout the nation increases, the numbers of students on waiting lists to enter our programs in health professions at OKCCC continues to grow," says Provost/Vice President for Academic Affairs Paul Sechrist. "As a result of the added demand in these areas, we have outgrown our current facilities and will soon begin construction on a new Health Professions Education Center. We have also partnered with Integris, one of the state's largest health care providers, to increase the number of qualified health professions graduates by adding another nursing track to our curriculum."

OKCCC also participates in a number of cooperative programs with various higher education and career and technical institutions. These programs provide students with the services and instruction that increase accessibility and convenience. Some of OKCCC's partners in education include the University of Oklahoma, the University of Central Oklahoma, Oklahoma State University-Oklahoma City, Redlands Community College, Rose State College, Frances Tuttle, Moore Norman Technology Center and Metro Tech.

"An increasing percentage of recent high school graduates are opting to begin their higher education careers at a community college," says Sechrist. "Many of our incoming students have scholarships and plans to move on to four-year institutions later. We also have a number of students seeking two-year professional/technical degrees so that they can immediately work within their chosen industry."

There has been tremendous growth at OKCCC since its opening in 1972 with an enrollment of 1,049 students. The school reports enrollment over the past four years has increased more than 40 percent. Along with health professions, academic programs in the areas of science, math, and arts and humanities have contributed to the growth, according to Sechrist.

"The college is also committed to the economic development and workforce training success of Oklahomans," says OKCCC President Bob Todd. "We have become a premier training center for business professionals, the scientific community and the growing technology sector."

El Paso Community College

In big Texas style, El Paso Community College (EPCC) ranked number one as the fastest-growing community college in the category of 10,000 or more students in the nation. The school's numbers reveal a 15 percent growth rate, and the president of EPCC, Richard Rhodes, attributes much of the growth to "the relationship with our community partners."

"We also offer the latest in technology, training facilities, and innovative learning options such as distance education, online courses, dual credit, student technology services, and a new state-of-the-art model for delivering education," says Rhodes.

An article by Darren Meritz in the E1 Paso Times reports that the rate of increase at EPCC outpaced the rates at both the University of Texas at E1 Paso and New Mexico State University from fall 2002 to fall 2003.

Along with an attractive, affordable tuition, EPCC's five campus sites--Valle Verde, Transmountain, Rio Grande, Northwest and Mission del Paso--provide other great reasons for the continued growth. First is location, location, location! In addition to the convenient locations, the staggered class schedules offer convenience and accessibility.

EPCC offers more than 130 programs of study to earn an associate's degree or certificate of completion, and students may take courses that transfer to any Texas college or university. EPCC serves 24,000 credit and 10,000 non-credit students each semester at its five campuses, instructional centers and satellite sites.

Dual-credit programs introduce career and technical education to high school students and most definitely have contributed to EPCC's growth. EPCC offers fundamental core courses to qualified high school juniors and seniors at participating high school campuses during daytime periods. Students receive both high school and college credit for the courses they take in the dual-credit program. The college class is a replacement rather than an addition. Students take just one class--the college class--and get both high school and college credit for it. The dual-credit courses are delivered by certified, college instructors.

In 1971, EPCC opened its doors with 901 students. There were 24,068 students registered for the spring 2005 semester, a gain of 1,571 over last January's enrollment.

There is one more important element that contributes to the school's success. "The great thing about EPCC is we do have a very caring faculty and staff," says Rhodes. "If students don't see that you care, they're not going to come back to you."

Summing It Up

In the final analysis, Borden, who authored the CCW report, may have expressed it best when he wrote:

"Perhaps what is most impressive about all of these numbers is that they represent the lives of millions of people who are seeking to improve their quality of life and that of their families through higher education."

Explore More

To learn more, here are the Web sites of the schools in this article.

Southwest Wisconsin Technical College

Bishop State Community College

Oklahoma City Community College

El Paso Community College

For more information about CCW, visit

Hope Gibbs is a Techniques contributing writer. She can be reached at
COPYRIGHT 2005 Association for Career and Technical Education
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Title Annotation:The New, The Newly Reborn, and the Growing
Author:Gibbs, Hope J.
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Oct 1, 2005
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