Enrollment continues to drop by double digits at Pima Community College, and for the first time in a long time, officials there are taking steps to stop it.
Perhaps nowhere are fingers crossed more tightly for the college’s success than at the University of Arizona.
The two schools’ fortunes are entwined to an extent because the UA is on a mission to increase the number of transfer students it gets from community colleges — a task potentially made more difficult with hundreds fewer students coming through PCC’s doors.
“We’re really rooting for them because we’re both critical to the future of Tucson and the state,” UA Vice President Melissa Vito said of PCC.
“Right now, they are our largest feeder school,” she said.
Recent data for PCC’s spring semester show full-time enrollment down 10 percent collegewide and as by much as 14 percent at some campuses.
The results mirror a 9 percent collegewide drop seen in fall 2013 and an 11 percent decline in fall 2012.
Until recently, PCC hadn’t done much to study the trend or try to reverse it, despite having more than a dozen administrators on the payroll responsible for doing so.
That’s changed, said Zelema Harris, interim second-in-command at the college, which is on probation with its accreditor over failings in governance and administration.
“The people here who are working to address this are so committed its unbelievable,” Harris said.
Enrollment management is one of the areas PCC must fix to get back in the accreditor’s good graces.
Harris said the college recently put together an internal task force to gather and analyze data on its potential target markets, a starting point to figure out who is and isn’t enrolling and why. A consultant will help with the effort and plan next steps.
The enrollment slump has occurred as the college faced a tide of negative publicity over high-profile problems. They include sexual harassment claims against a former chancellor, mistreatment of student veterans, unauthorized changes to admissions standards and drug-related claims against PCC’s former nursing dean.
While the bad press may have scared off some would-be students, Harris said she thinks the improving economy may be a bigger factor.
Community college enrollment tends to increase during economic slumps and dip during recoveries, she said.
The UA, which saw total enrollment of around 40,000 last fall, gets about 1,200 transfer students a year from PCC, a number that’s held steady so far, said Kasey Urquidez, UA’s dean of admissions.
But it needs to add more than 1,000 transfer students over the next five years to meet goals set by the board that oversees the university.
PCC’s Harris says the college still has “a long way to go” to fix problems but is firmly on the right track.
“This isn’t just about bringing in more students and doing the same things we’ve been doing,” she said.
“It’s about evaluating everything we do to make sure that once students get here they can be successful.”