Enrollment in higher education nationwide has been declining since 2011, but Germanna Community College is successfully fighting this trend.
Continuing a course that started last fall semester, enrollment for spring 2019 is up 21 percent, said Michael Zitz, Germanna’s director of marketing and media relations.
“Right now, we have a total head count of 6,668, not counting workforce training students,” he said. That number also doesn’t include students from the fall semester who are not taking courses this semester.
Germanna is one of only four schools in the 23-school Virginia Community College System that has seen enrollment increase, Zitz said.
Tiffany Ray, Germanna’s vice president for student services, said the increased enrollment is the result of an “intense focus” on improving these numbers that began when President Janet Gullickson took over leadership of the community college in 2017.
“That was kind of right at the time when a lot of institutions in the Virginia Community College System were seeing the worst of the enrollment trend,” Ray said. “We were at a peak of just, ‘Where are all the students?’”
Gullickson started conversations about how to increase enrollment at Germanna, and last summer Ray, 33, started in her position, bringing with her a background in enrollment management.
Ray said a big part of college’s strategy has been to identify financial barriers that might be impeding students’ ability to enroll and stay at Germanna.
“Community colleges present a really good value for community, but there are still students for whom costs are prohibitive,” she said. “What we don’t want to do is have groups of students who are interested in changing their lives and the only barrier is payment.”
Ray said that often, the amount a student needs to be able to pay for courses is $300 or less.
“We feel that’s not anything that should stop a student,” she said. “That’s what a lot of us spend on a weekly basis for a good meal.”
A cross-functional team of Germanna staff and faculty looks at student need and finds ways to meet that need, whether through financial aid, grants or scholarships.
“The Germanna Education Foundation has been a big part of this,” Ray said.
The college is also creating a new staff position focused on “financial literacy,” Ray said. The role of this position will be to take a proactive look at the student body, identify and assist students who need help making their tuition payments, by connecting them with scholarships and loans.
“There are other ways to pay besides federal financial aid and personal funds,” Ray said.
The other part of the enrollment strategy concentrates on student success and retention. The Student Success Coaching program—in which students work one-on-one with a coach to reach academic goals—is continuing, and Ray said Germanna has added to its advising staff and is enlisting faculty assistance to “get students on the path they’re interested in sooner.”
“We’re also making sure that we’re keeping an eye on spring retention and digging in deep to make sure we’re intervening before students are not returning for the subsequent semester,” she said.
Ray also pointed to the new Barbara J. Fried Center in Stafford as one of the reasons enrollment is up. The center offers programs in cyber security, nursing and business administration and has filled up quickly.
Additionally, there has been a surge in dual enrollment, in which area students complete college-level courses while still in high school.
Ray said the intense focus on enrollment has allowed staff and faculty at Germanna to work together in a way they never have before.
“We’ve found it kind of refreshing to get together and talk about some of these issues that impact our students,” she said. “We’re just really proud of our ability, and the byproduct of that is we’re working with our colleagues in ways we hadn’t previously, and we’re really seeing the effect of that. So it’s rewarding as well.”