By Madison Heiser
Graphic by Madison Heiser
Tyler Junior College is among many U.S. community colleges and vocational schools whose enrollment has been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. Although TJC’s total enrollment did not see a significant decrease between fall 2019 and fall 2020, the college faced an influx of online enrollment as the 2020-21 school year began.
According to TJC Registrar Britt Sabota, the school had a total enrollment of 12,651 students in fall 2019. By fall 2020, that enrollment decreased by nearly 500 students to 12,154. Between fall 2019 and fall 2020, internet enrollment nearly doubled from 4,770 to 8,172. By these numbers, 38% of TJC’s fall 2019 enrollment were online students. In fall 2020, this percentage increased to 67%. Sabota said the sum of TJC’s enrollment at its main campus, off-site instructional locations and online will not equal the overall institutional enrollment. This is because students may be enrolled at more than one location or online, simultaneously. TJC’s total enrollment numbers reflect the overall institutional unduplicated headcount.
“We expanded fully online offerings,” Sabota said. “Our faculty teaching online courses were provided with expanded training for Canvas, Zoom and other technology platforms to ensure they have been well-prepared to offer online students a high-quality and engaging instructional experience.” According to Sabota, TJC offered 548 online course sections in fall 2019. This number increased to 839 in fall 2020.TJC freshman Genesis Baze said she opted to take online courses this semester to work and attend school simultaneously without exposing her family to COVID-19.
“I think COVID made my first semester extremely hard,” Baze said. “I felt like I just went to class and my room, and there wasn’t much going on at school.”
Sabota also said some classes were converted to hybrid courses that combine online and in-person instruction. According to Sabota, “all in-person classes have been assigned to a classroom that provides for 50% or less capacity.” Additionally, in-person classes have been held at all available times and days of the week to minimize density in classrooms. According to the TJC website, the college has offered students “TJC Your Way,” which allows flexibility in combining in-person, online and hybrid classes to provide students with the educational experience they desire while promoting public health and safety.
Despite these accommodations, TJC saw a larger decrease in student enrollment between fall 2020 and spring 2021 than it saw between 2019 and 2020 fall semesters. This semester, TJC has a total enrollment of 11,166 students – a drop of nearly 1,000 students from last semester. Both internet and main campus enrollment, which make up the majority of the school’s student body, saw respective decreases of more than 1,200 students between fall 2020 and spring 2021.
According to the Associated Press, community college enrollment was hit the hardest by COVID-19 compared to other colleges and four-year universities. Nationwide enrollment at community colleges dropped 10% overall between fall 2019 and 2020, according to the National Student Clearinghouse. Undergraduate enrollment at four-year universities dropped a comparative 4%.
The decrease in enrollment can be attributed to the increased amount of homebound individuals during the pandemic, especially older students with families, according to AP. Although community college enrollment typically increases during economic downturns, COVID-19 has uniquely affected this trend due to financial instability, changing family obligations, and the effects of anxiety and depression among students.
According to AP, advocates for community college attendance hope the enrollment downturn is a temporary response to COVID-19. Some officials estimate when college campuses begin to reopen and operate at full capacity, enrollment will return to normal rates similar to those seen before the pandemic.
“I never understood why people don’t consider community colleges more,” Baze said. “Why would you pay $17,000 in tuition to get the same education you’re going to get at a community college? I guess when I’m 30 and don’t have debt and they do, then I can say, ‘I told you so.’”