Increased enrollment stretching resources at community college

As enrollment on the Hill continues to climb and faculty resources are stretched, Western’s extended campus – the Bowling Green Community College – finds itself faced with the same double-edged sword.

Sherry Reid, interim dean for the community college, said enrollment has risen by 9.5 percent this year, with total enrollment reaching over 2,000.

“I think, frankly, it’s exciting to see so many people … they seem eager to learn,” said Jean Nehm, an assistant professor at south campus.

While many faculty at the community college share the same sentiments as Nehm, some still worry about the massive amount of growth it has seen in the past five years.

Since 1997, when enrollment totaled 1,259, the total number of students at South Campus has ballooned by 75 percent. In that same time, enrollment on Western’s main campus has grown 20 percent.

In those five years, classes at the community college have become more crowded, faculty have taken on larger workloads and the university has increased faculty-hiring efforts to counter the explosion in student growth.

And there may not be any relief in sight. The increase in students South Campus has experienced this semester is its largest ever, Reid said.

“Last year was an extremely large jump, too,” she said. “Last year we had difficulty finding enough space for everyone, and then this year we stretched it a little further.”

Reid said the growth in enrollment at South Campus can be attributed to several factors, including Kentucky’s push to get more students into higher education.

A sagging economy and improved retention efforts are also possible catalysts for the enrollment increase, she said.

A mixture of students

The community college, like main campus, is not made of just traditional students. Reid said it is home to three different types of students: non-traditional students, students pursuing two-year associate degrees and others who didn’t meet the admission requirements of the university.

Students who didn’t meet admission requirements first attend the community college for extra help.

Reid said those students, while taking classes strictly at South Campus, “are living in the residence halls, joining sororities, fraternities – they are just typical freshmen.”

The community college is also home to older adults entering college for the first time or receiving instruction to find a different career.

Finding enough room

To meet the demands of 2,204 students, more part-time faculty have been hired and the community college is also temporarily sharing full-time faculty with main and Glasgow campuses, Reid said.

“Finding a good place for faculty to work, think and meet with students has been a real challenge,” she said.

Western has found an ally in the Kentucky Community and Technical College System.

President Gary Ransdell said some classes at the community college have been moved to the Bowling Green Technical College with the help of KCTCS, which was good because “they were about out of space last year.”

Ransdell said he also has authorized the college, if necessary, to bring in trailers to accommodate students.

If the community college continues to grow and the space is needed, Reid would be open to such a plan.

Expanding South Campus may also be an alternative. Ransdell said if growth continues, they may expand the center by one or two classrooms.

More classroom space may also become available in the near future. The Applied Physics Institute and Materials Characterization Lab will move from South Campus to the new Center for Research and Development soon.

The move, Ransdell said, would open space for the community college, but would require some renovation.

“We can’t continue to fit 200 more students into our existing classrooms every year,” Reid said. “So we’re looking for more permanent solutions, because we expect to continue to grow.”

Dealing with growth

Officials at South Campus are doing their best for now to deal with the increased growth, and class sizes have been upped to accommodate.

Grayson County freshman Catrina White said this semester all of her classes at South Campus have been full. She said this is a change from last semester, when her classes were a lot smaller.

Edmonson County freshman Jennifer Woosley agreed.

“They’re full, very full,” she said.

However some students said they have not noticed much of a difference in their class sizes.

Reid said the community college dealt with the growth two ways. First, the number of students allowed to enter a single class was increased.

Also, some teachers have agreed to take on additional students.

“They usually don’t ask us to do that,” said Paul Bush, an assistant professor at the community college.

While class size has increased, Reid said she does not think it is affecting the way classes are taught.

“Out little motto is, ‘higher education one student at a time,’ and I think we’re still all trying to subscribe to that mission,” she said.

Reach Molly O’Connor at [email protected]