On The Record
At Washtenaw Community College, more students are choosing to take their classes online. In fact, Distance Learning at the college has grown 11 percent over the past three years.
That growth is due in part to the college offering more online classes, degrees and certificates than ever before.
WCC has seen a small decrease in enrollment: as of Aug. 26, enrollment was down about 1.2 percent when compared to last year.
“As a community college, we have all experienced the natural decline from the bubble of the Great Recession,” said Bill Johnson, WCC’s vice president and chief financial officer. “Since 2010, as the economy continues to strengthen and more displaced workers find employment, community colleges continue to experience modest declines.”
WCC’s slight decline is small compared to other community colleges in the state. Lansing Community College’s enrollment decreased nearly 15 percent since last year, according to August data from the Michigan Association of College Registrars and Admissions. Most community colleges in Michigan are experiencing enrollment decreases of five to 10 percent.
WCC is responding to its enrollment changes by making available new programs and modes of learning, so it can reach markets it hasn’t reached in the past, Johnson said.
The college is offering more online classes, as well as a total of 12 online-only certificates and degrees, meaning that students can earn a degree entirely online without having to step foot on WCC’s campus.
The online-only certificates and degrees are particularly attractive to students who reside outside of Washtenaw County, Johnson added. “We do get a fair number of students from out of the county who come onto our campus and say that traveling so far can be inconvenient,” he said. “A distance learning mode can serve the needs of current and prospective students in a more supportive way.”
What’s particularly convenient about offering online programs to students outside of the county is it doesn’t require the college to take on any additional fixed costs aside from faculty. “So the college as a whole has a lot to gain,” Johnson said.
“Students have the ability to take classes when and where they want to with these new options,” said Interim Vice President for Instruction Bill Abernethy.
“Today’s students are accustomed to learning and interacting online—we are simply providing them with a mode of learning that they are comfortable with in an increasingly interconnected, global world.”