FVCC Enrollment Holding Steady as Economy Improves

This fall the community college reported 2,169 enrolled students, eight more than last year

By Dillon Tabish
Flathead Valley Community College commencement ceremony on May 15, 2015. Greg Lindstrom | Flathead Beacon

While the University of Montana struggles with a sharp drop in enrollment and projected budget cuts, Flathead Valley Community College is holding steady with a minimal drop in full-time students.

This fall FVCC reported 2,169 enrolled students, eight more than a year ago. The number of full-time equivalent students was 1,319.2, a 3.8 percent decline, or roughly 52 FTEs.

Enrollment hit record levels during the recession, with over 2,500 students enrolled at FVCC in 2010. Since the economy has improved in the years since, universities and colleges across the state are now seeing fluctuating enrollments, due to various factors, including a decreasing number of Montana high school graduates and student loan debt.

At UM, enrollment dropped 6.5 percent to 13,044 students. This means the university will receive $3 million less in revenue, and officials have said the school will have to adjust expenditures to make up for the shortfall.

In contract, Montana State University reported a new enrollment record with 15,688 students, a 1.7 percent increase. It is the ninth time in the last 10 years that MSU has set an enrollment record.

In Kalispell, FVCC attracts 90 percent of its students from Flathead and Lincoln counties, and this has helped provide a consistent base for the school, according to officials.

“The part of our enrollment that is most consistent is traditional aged students out of high school. It’s the non-traditional students who are more volatile. That depends on the job market in the valley,” said Brad Eldredge, vice president of Instruction and Student Services at FVCC.

Eldredge said the college prepared its budget in case an enrollment drop occurred, and that strategy has prevented any significant cuts on campus.

“We wanted to be conservative in our budget,” he said.

FVCC’s annual budget for fiscal year 2016 was $18.65 million. The school’s funding comes from three sources: tuition (26 percent), state appropriations (46.9 percent) and local taxes (27.1 percent).

“We’re really blessed with a lot of stability in the way we’re funded so we can weather the ups and downs that come from being a community college,” Eldredge said.

Eldredge said the college has seen a noticeable uptick in high school students utilizing the Running Start program that allows them to take college courses. He said FVCC’s occupational trades and health care programs are also very popular and attracting growing numbers of students.