Ohio community colleges enrollment has declined in past decade

Sinclair, Edison State show enrollment increases in past year.



Fewer Ohio students enrolled in community colleges in the past decade, following a national trend, but advocates say the smaller enrollment do not mean Ohio’s community colleges are unsuccessful.

In 2010, 211,260 Ohio students were enrolled at community colleges. The most recent final data from the Ohio Department of Education shows enrollment in fall 2021 dropped to 178,190 students, a 15% decline.

Some of the reason for the drop is how the state funds community colleges.

Ohio changed the way it pays community colleges 10 years ago to encourage students to finish their degrees rather than focusing on the number of students enrolled at each college, said Jack Hershey, president and CEO of the Ohio Association of Community Colleges.

He said Ohio’s community colleges are also focused on keeping students through graduation with that approach, which benefits the students.

“I think we’re doing a better job of keeping community college students,” he said. “What we’ve seen over the last 10 years is we’ve tried to add a lot of support for students who come to us.”

That includes adding childcare for students who are parents of young children or addressing concerns for students who have aging parents, he said.

The state recently expanded financial aid to community college students, which Hershey said helps students who need it. It was previously only available to four-year university students, he said.

Nationally, the enrollment drop is more pronounced. In 2010, the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center reported about 7 million students attended public, two-year institutions in the U.S. By 2021, that number had fallen to about 4.7 million, a 34% decline in enrollment.

In Ohio, enrollment following the pandemic has shown slight increases, including at Sinclair Community College in downtown Dayton.

This fall, the Ohio Department of Higher Education reported a preliminary result of 137,929 students enrolled in community colleges across the state, a 3% increase over 2022. According to the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center, from spring of 2022 to spring 2023, community college enrollment rose by about half a percent.

Hershey said there is a greater demand now for community college graduates because there is a worker shortage. Some places are now considering people with associate’s degree where they wouldn’t have before, he said.

“We’re seeing an increased demand for community college graduates out of existing employers and then, those that Jobs Ohio and the governor are bringing in, the majority of those jobs that are coming in are associate degrees or certificates,” he said.

Sinclair Community College saw a 3% increase this fall compared to last year, while Edison State saw a 5% increase in student enrollment. However, Clark State saw a 9% drop in enrollment.

Sinclair Community College students told the Dayton Daily News they chose the community college route because it was less expensive and convenient for them.

Hayle Harless, a Sinclair dental hygienist student, said she ended up going to Sinclair even though it was more than an hour away from where she lives because there was no wait to get into her program.

Harless said she’s been in several different community college programs but Sinclair had provided the most support.

“There’s always someone at every desk,” Harless said.

Lee Richburg, a first-semester culinary student at Sinclair, said he was working as a truck repairman for Love’s gas stations before he went back to school. He picked Sinclair because of its affordability and proximity to his home.

He said college has taken some getting used to since he has been out of high school for two years, but there are plenty of resources for him to use.

“I can always go to someone else,” he said. “The writing labs are helpful.”

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