Posted Online: Oct. 08, 2011, 6:48 pm

College plans reflect weak economy

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By Anthony Watt, awatt@qconline.com

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Photo: Todd Mizener
Augustana College sophomore Natalie Sherman of Woodstock, Ill. studies cell biology during a break between classes on the Rock Island campus Friday October 10, 2011.
Many Quad-Cities area students are adjusting their college plans to compensate for the nation's economic challenges, enrollment information provided by colleges and universities for the 2011 fall semester shows.

At Black Hawk College, more students are pursuing short-term job training and certificates to improve their chances in the job market, said Michael Rivera, dean of instruction and student learning.

"We're seeing growth in quite a few areas," Mr. Rivera said.

Those include the school's nursing, business administration, computer information processing and engineering programs, he said.

The school is seeing fewer students concentrating on courses that will help them transfer to four-year institutions, Mr. Rivera said. He said those numbers likely will go up again when economic conditions change.

Many four-year institutions have partnerships with the community colleges in their area that allow students to take general courses more inexpensively at the community colleges before moving on to the four-year college or university.

St. Ambrose University has partnerships with Black Hawk College and its Iowa counterpart, Eastern Iowa Community Colleges which includes Scott Community College , said John Cooper, the university's vice president of enrollment management.

St. Ambrose has seen a slight drop in its transfer students. There are about 190 this year compared to a little more than 200 last year, he said.

"I would say a lot of students are wanting to take as many classes at the community colleges as they can," Mr. Cooper said.

SAU is seeing increases in health sciences at the graduate and undergraduate levels and in its business graduate program, he said.

The school has 815 graduate students this year, about 40 more than the university expected, Mr. Cooper said. Generally, the numbers of students focused on other areas of study have remained flat, he said.

Augustana College has seen an increase in students taking advantage of the federal Pell grant, said W. Kent Barnds, Augustana's vice president of enrollment, communication and planning. This year, about 22 percent of Augustana's students are using Pell grants, compared to 13 percent in 2008.

The school's traditionally popular offerings of education, biology, psychology and business remain attractive to students, but Augustana also has expanded its environmental studies, graphic design, creative writing, anthropology and international business offerings in response to demand from students, he said.

There was some talk that the weak economy might cause students to avoid studying business, but so far that has not been the case, Mr. Barnds said.

Western Illinois University's Moline campus has seen growth in its engineering and liberal arts programs, said Joe Rives, vice president for the Quad Cities, planning and technology.

There has been a drop in the education program, but that is likely due to higher standards implemented by Illinois, Mr. Rives said. WIU is working with Black Hawk College to better prepare students to meet those standards.

At WIU's Macomb campus, majors such as law enforcement and justice administration, elementary education and psychology remain popular, said Gary Biller, WIU vice president for student services. The Macomb campus has seen a slight drop in graduate and transfer students, he said.

EICC also has seen growth in career-oriented programs, according to a news release. But the school's transfer program also saw growth.

The data indicate increases in student population in some programs this semester, while others remained level. EICC has about 9,839 students enrolled at its Clinton, Muscatine and Scott campuses, according to the news release. That is a 5 percent increase over the 9,365 students at this time in 2010. Scott Community College counted 5,860 students this year, up from 5,581 in 2010.

At Western's Moline campus, there was a .08 percent increase, Mr. Rives said. It rose form 1,361 students to 1,372.

"We're at full capacity, we could not grow more," he said.

The potential for the school's Quad-Cities branch will double when its new Riverfront Campus opens early next year, he said.

WIU's Macomb campus has 1,900 freshmen this year, about 200 more than last year and the highest count since 2007, Mr. Biller said. The overall student body for the university has decreased by about 30 students and is at 12,554, he said.

Black Hawk College has counted 6,403 students this semester. Mr. Rivera said there are mid-semester classes whose students have not yet been counted. When they are, the college expects its student count will be level with last year. In 2010 there were 6,677 students.

St. Ambrose has 3,587 students; last year it had 3,663, Mr. Cooper said.

Augustana has remained at about 2,500 students, Mr. Barnds said. The college tries to maintain its student population at that number, which is optimal for Augustana's faculty and facilities, he said.