A simple rule of thumb still holds true for Howard College — when the economy is up, enrollment is down.
Preliminary enrollment numbers for the fall 2013 semester show what college officials expected — enrollment at the junior college district is down 9 percent from this time last year and an increase in energy sector hiring is the major reason why.
Total enrollment for the district is 4,167 students. Individual campus figures are 1,495 for Big Spring (down 10 percent), 2,374 for San Angelo (also down 10 percent), 165 for SouthWest Collegiate Institute for the Deaf (up 7 percent) and 133 for Lamesa (down 2 percent).
While unwelcome, those numbers were not unexpected.
“We analyze these numbers very carefully and we believe several factors at play,” HC President Dr. Cheryl Sparks said. “First, we've instituted a new admissions placement test, which has concerned potential students, especially those in dual credit courses. Secondly, the bacterial meningitis vaccination requirements also have caused some concern. Also, of course, there's the economy.”
College enrollment figures have, historically, travelled an opposite path from the economy. In 2009, when this area was feeling the effects of a recession, the district started experiencing record enrollment growth. However, as the economy has recovered, enrollment has been heading downhill.
District enrollment peaked at 4,852 in 2011, just as the hiring boom in the oil sector was beginning to surface. Since then, the college has seen two straight years of enrollment decline.
“We saw this trend beginning last year,” Sparks said. “The opportunity to work in the energy sector has positively impacted our economy. As a result, we're seeing the traditional decision by students to join the workforce.”