Student enrollment at Steamboat Springs' community college has increased by more than 30 percent during the past five years.
Last fall, more than 750 degree-seeking students took classes at Colorado Mountain College's Alpine Campus in Steamboat Springs. During the 2004-05 academic year, 3,500 people will take a course at the community college. The number of full-time equivalent students, including those who take noncredit classes, has increased by 40 percent since 1999, according to figures recently compiled by the school.
The trend is opposite of what is being experienced at some other state higher education institutions. The University of Colorado at Boulder recently reported a 19 percent drop in the number of applications it received from out-of-state students. In-state applications have decreased by 4 percent in the past year. Colorado State University also has reported a decrease in the number of student applications it has received. It remains to be seen what effect the decrease in applications will have on final enrollment numbers.
Officials at those schools blame increasing tuition costs for the decrease in applications, though some also suspect recent scandals surrounding CU have contributed to the drop-off in students applying to the Boulder campus.
Officials at the CMC Alpine Campus are thrilled with the steady upward trend, even if it has created scheduling conflicts and other administrative obstacles. School officials said steady tuition costs and course credits guaranteed to transfer to four-year schools are primary reasons for the higher enrollment.
Alpine Campus Dean Robert Ritschel described the five-year enrollment increase as phenomenal, but he cautioned against expecting similar results in the next five years.
"The danger of patting yourself on the back about numbers is that they can always turn around," Ritschel said. "On the other hand, we have had growth for five straight years."
Lance Eldridge, assistant campus dean of instruction, said more students attending the school have forced its administration to take steps to ease the burden on the school's limited facilities. Alpine Campus is offering more Friday classes to maximize classroom space and more sections of popular courses to keep class sizes small.
"The increase has required us to re-examine the way we offer courses," Eldridge said.
Because more of the school's degree-seeking students are looking to transfer to four-year schools than ever before, Alpine Campus is offering more courses that are guaranteed to transfer to other higher education institutions. But that move has forced the school to offer less of some of its specialty and noncredit courses popular with community members and lifelong learners, Eldridge said.
To balance meeting the needs of its traditional degree-seeking students with the interests of community students, Alpine Campus is making more of its course offerings dual enrollment -- classes that students can take for credit or not for credit, depending on the desire and needs of each student.
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