Local community colleges are following a national trend. For the third straight year all 15 community colleges in Mississippi are reporting a decrease in enrollment. However, officials at Meridian Community College say there is no need for alarm.
With 3,717 students, fall enrollment at Meridian Community College is down by 7%. That's higher than the 4.3% drop at community colleges statewide.
"For a college like Meridian that statistically has one half of one county as its district, we have a pretty healthy community college here," says MCC President, Dr. Scott Elliott.
Meridian Community College has the smallest two year college district in Mississippi. With record high enrollment three years ago, Dr. Elliott says the decrease in enrollment reflects both good and bad news.
"The economy is improving in Mississippi, which means that more people are going back to work rather than going to school. It's just a national phenomenon. When the economy is down, community college enrollments are up because people are looking to retool in terms of a job skill."
Last year enrollment at community colleges in the U.S. dropped by about 4%. This coincided with a significant decrease in the number and value amount of federal pell grants that were awarded.
Although there is less money to provide to assist students, Dr. Elliott says because of growing demand, MCC is preparing to further expand at least one of its programs.
"We're not looking to lose any programs, but to expand into other areas. This spring we'll be opening a new welding addition in our workforce training center, which is going to be about a $2 million investment for the college. We see that as another prevalent occupation considering the steel fabrication businesses that we have in our community, the lignite plant to our north, the shipping industry for people who are working offshore, and things like that. So, that's an example of an expansion for the college."
At its peak in 2010 more than 83,000 students were attending Mississippi's 15 community colleges. Currently, there are almost 78,000 enrolled.