A record number of Minnesotans are enrolling in the 32 schools in the Minnesota State Colleges and University system, with particularly heavy enrollment gains by older students and students of color, according to figures released this morning.
Classes at 6 a.m., added sessions and overflowing parking lots are all indicators that Minnesotans are increasingly relying on the state college system.
MNSCU officials described the latest growth spurt as the equivalent of adding another institution the size of Minnesota State University, Mankato. Today’s enrollment figures come after a record increase last fall, compared with the year before.
“This large enrollment increase clearly shows Minnesotans are turning to their state colleges and universities when times are tough,” said Chancellor James H. McCormick in a press release. “We are glad to help them pursue their goals. Equally important, we will have more graduates ready in the next few years to help Minnesota’s employers rebuild the state’s economy.”
With a heavy emphasis on technical training and career-oriented curricula, particularly at the community and technical colleges, the continuing enrollment gains are a barometer of the way many Minnesotans are adjusting to the new economic realities and job market. On Tuesday, the state reported that Minnesota’s economy added 15,600 jobs and that its unemployment rate dropped slightly to 7.3 percent. Even so, there are still more job seekers than jobs, according to the state, with more than 136,000 jobs lost since December 2007.
Highlights of the MNSCU enrollment figures include:
- An additional 14, 638 full- and part-time students enrolled for the spring semester, a 7.8 percent increase from a year ago for a total enrollment of 197,576 system-wide.
- Most of the growth came in the technical and community colleges, where 14 campuses saw growth of 10 percent or more.
- Enrollment by students 25 and older was up 16 percent, compared with 6 percent growth for younger students.
- Enrollment was up in 21 percent for students of color for spring, while enrollment of white students was up 9 percent. MNSCU has expanded programs to recruit students traditionally underrepresented in higher education — students of color, low-income students and students who are the first in their families to attend college.
- Total enrollment for what the system calls full-year-equivalent students is expected to increase by 7 percent for all of the 2009-10 academic year. (“Full year equivalents” measures the total number of credits students earned system-wide divided by a full-time course load to get the equivalent of full-time student headcount.)
- MNSCU has about 260,000 individual students enrolled in for-credit courses throughout the year. In addition to its degree and certificate programs, the MNSCU system provides non-credit training programs under contract with companies around the state. Currently about 164,000 are enrolled in non-credit courses around the system and are not reflected in the numbers released today.
Melinda Voss, MNSCU spokesperson, said that some campuses are trying different ways to accommodate the influx of students. St. Cloud Technical & Community College launched “College Before Breakfast,” scheduling some classes as early as 6 a.m., she said.
The MNSCU system is grappling with growth in demand at the same time its funding is being cut by the state. In 2010, MNSCU saw its state funding reduced $72.2 million from the previous year to $614.2 million. The governor’s budget has MNSCU’s funding down even further to $605.5 million for 2011. The MNSCU system offset the cuts this two-year budget cycle with federal stimulus funds of $79.2 million, which primarily went to hold down tuition hikes, Voss said. .
In 2000, the state picked up two-thirds of the cost of tuition. Today, it covers 46 percent, according to Voss. Average full-time tuition and fees at the totals $4,780 per year at community and technical colleges and $6,400 at the state universities.