With a renowned focus on reengaging stopped-out adult students, two- and four-year colleges nationwide have turned their efforts to raking in nontraditional learners as younger cohorts appear to dwindle. However, several institutions are reaping great enrollment numbers from the high school realm. Their game? Creating initiatives that dilate their schools’ access and affordability.
Tackling workforce needs with financial assistance
Maine Free College, a free college scholarship initiative introduced by the Maine Community College System (MCCS) in the 2022-23 academic year, has helped contribute to a mass resurgence in enrollment compared to the rest of the country. Overall enrollment shot up 12%, a striking rate compared to the nation’s meeker numbers, according to a recent report. While MCCS President David Daigler also credited its nursing program and short-term workforce credentials for the bump, the numbers don’t lie: Of the 14,159 students enrolled in 2022-23, 46% were Free College students.
Buoyed by a $20 million investment from the state, MCCS targeted high school graduates from 2020 to 2023 who might have been affected by the pandemic. Aside from wanting to remove prospective students’ financial barriers, one of the top objectives of Free College is to motivate high school graduates to stay in Maine for their continued learning and entry into the workforce.
When state leaders in Idaho passed the LAUNCH program during the last legislative session, The Idaho Workforce Development Council forecasted around 8,000 seniors would apply. The program is set to offer graduating seniors interested in pursuing jobs in high-demand industries 80% coverage of their tuition or up to $8,000 in grants.
As of the start of the year, over 12,000 students have applied, said Sherawn Reberry, communications and program manager for the council, according to KTVB. Several colleges and universities currently enrolled in the program are Idaho State University, Lewis-Clark State College and the University of Idaho.
The expanded access and affordability for high school graduates granted at Maine Free College and the Idaho Launch program share similar motivations. Each respective state wants to bolster its workforce development and incentivize young adults to stay within its borders. The same goes for Arizona. A Senate bill aims to expand the state’s current Earn to Learn program by creating 250,000 more scholarships in the first five years.
“Employers are starved for trained workers, especially in the high-skill industries so critical to the U.S. economy,” said Daniel Seiden, Arizona Chamber of Commerce & Industry President and CEO, according to Business Chamber News. “The Arizona Chamber of Commerce & Industry supports programs like Earn to Learn that increase accessibility to higher education opportunities for all.”
Aside from financial assistance, institutions are also leveraging direct admission programs to attract high school students. California State University, Fresno, recently announced its Bulldog Bound initiative, which guarantees learners attending participating K12 schools college admission as early as ninth grade. More than 2,000 students have already committed since the program launched, ABC 30 reports.
However, the results of direct admissions programs should be taken with caution until further analysis is done. While Idaho’s in-state enrollment increased by almost 12% over two years after statewide implementation, Common App found that enrollment did not improve despite its increase in student college application submissions.
Are institutions in over their head?
Access and affordability initiatives for high school students performing better than expected may provide participating colleges and universities more than they can handle.
Take, for example, MassReconnet, a Massachusetts initiative geared for adult learners that covers their community college tuition. Enrollment across the 15 community colleges has grown at such a rate that some academic administrators are concerned if they now have too many mouths to feed, WBUR reports. Jason Marsala, dean of enrollment services at North Shore Community College, said his staff is burning out due to the uptick in financial processing forms. This problem is prevalent across many of the state’s two-year colleges, which all face tight staff.
“We do not have deep benches anywhere, and that’s partially because we don’t have deep resources,” said Nate Mackinnon, the executive director of the Massachusetts Association of Community Colleges, according to WBUR. “We are scrappy operations. Everybody wears multiple hats at every one of our colleges. And so, when you have big influxes of students, those hats become even heavier.”
Additionally, Central Maine Community College, a beneficiary of Maine Free College, recently had to contract with a local hotel after student enrollment outgained its housing infrastructure, the Sun Journal reports.