As the economy recovers and job opportunities improve, enrollment at Flathead Valley Community College continues to dip while the school’s endowment has doubled.
Two weeks into the latest fall semester, FVCC’s headcount was 2,216 students, according to school officials. That’s 179 students fewer than last fall, but remains above the pre-recession average of 2,024 between 2003-2008.
This marks the third consecutive year that enrollment has trended downward, a shift that school officials tie to the economic turnaround.
At the same time, the school’s endowment has reached $6.78 million, double what it was in early 2009, when the total amount shrank to $3.38 million, according to FVCC.
“When the recession hit in 2008, it definitely affected our endowment as it did everybody’s. That was a big blow to all of us,” said Colleen Unterreiner, executive director of FVCC’s foundation, which uses the school’s endowment to provide scholarships and help pay for school programs, equipment and buildings.
“We’ve been blessed because we have a very generous community. We’ve had a fair number of significant gifts to the endowment and those really helped us build our endowment. We are actually looking very good right now. It’s an exciting time for our foundation.”
An endowment is created through donations intended for the long-term support of an organization. The endowment principal is invested and the earnings are used to support projects like scholarships and other needs that are not met through the general fund.
“We’re seeing a real interest in supporting the college,” Unterreiner said. “Our local community is really seeing the benefit of the college as an asset.”
Both the enrollment and endowment have traced the tumultuous economy over the last five years.
The number of students spiked from 1,899 to 2,539 in the heart of the recession between 2009-2010, when Flathead County’s unemployment rate hovered around 10-12 percent. As the jobless rate incrementally shrank, so has enrollment at FVCC.
“We had that huge increase and now we’re correcting down to that underlying growth trend, but we’re still above where we were,” said Brad Eldredge, executive director of institutional research assessment and planning at FVCC.
“We feel pretty good about where we are at.”
In terms of full-time equivalency, which is determined by the total number of credits being taught divided by the typical full-time workload of 15 credits, FVCC has 1,499.7 students, down from 1,626.6 last year. Headcount is always higher than FTE because it could take two or three part-time students to equate to one FTE.
Among this year’s enrollment, there are 1,945 students from Flathead or Lincoln counties, an 8 percent drop. There are 179 out-of-district students, 10 fewer than last year. There are two more out-of-state students this fall than last year, with 88.
“We’re focusing on continuing to meet students’ needs and provide a quality education,” FVCC Jane Karas said.
Karas said the board of trustees is continuing to look at adding more on-campus housing opportunities, which could influence enrollment. The school is working with state universities to increase the availability of four-year degrees, a process that is expected to continue through the fall and spring.
FVCC is also continuing to work on growing its Running Start program, which allows local high school juniors and seniors to take college courses. This fall, 218 high school students from Northwest Montana are taking college classes through FVCC.
Columbia Falls High School has the highest total, with 26, followed by 25 students at Flathead and in homeschool, and 24 at Montana Academy.
Almost all colleges and universities across the state are in a similar post-recession situation as FVCC, according to the latest data released last week by the Montana University System.
Montana State University in Bozeman is the lone exception. MSU has a record enrollment this fall, with 15,294 students, a 4.3 percent increase over 2012. The school is also reporting its largest freshman class ever, with 2,921 first-year students.
The University of Montana has reduced enrollment for the second consecutive year. UM is down 418 students to 14,525.
The reduction in students statewide is following the brightening job market, which has the lowest statewide and county-wide unemployment rates since the months leading up to the recession.
In its recent Labor Day report, the state’s Department of Labor and Industry highlighted the changing economic landscape and emphasized the importance of having a college degree in the modern job market.
Highly educated workers are more likely to be employed, receive higher wages and are more likely to participate in entrepreneurial activity, according to the American Community Survey, which was cited in the Labor Day report.
Among Montana’s labor force, 65 percent either had college experience or an associate’s, bachelor’s or graduate degree in 2012, according to the Labor Day report. Thirty percent of the labor force only had a high-school diploma.
Fifteen percent of unemployed workers 25 and older in Montana did not have a high-school diploma in 2012. Those with a bachelor’s degree only accounted for 3.3 percent of the unemployed.
Across the state, workers who have a bachelor’s degree earn on average $30,000 annually. Workers with a graduate or professional degree earned roughly $49,000 on average. In contrast, those without a high-school diploma earn roughly $17,000.
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