A slumping economy, teamed with aggressive marketing and a growing college-age population, helped hike spring enrollment at Ventura County's three community colleges, officials said Thursday.
Oxnard College, the smallest of the two-year campuses, grew fastest, adding 643 students--a nearly 9.5% increase. Moorpark College's student body grew more than 7%, and enrollment at Ventura College was up 2%.
Steve Hall, math and science dean at Oxnard College, said the growth at his campus was expected.
"It's the result of outreach and recruitment and an effort to show people that this is a premiere institution of higher learning in Ventura County," he said.
As an example of how such recruiting has paid off, Hall cited the rapid growth of the college's addictive-disorders program, which trains people for careers as drug and alcohol counselors. Enrollment in the program grew from 225 to more than 400 students this year, he said.
Oxnard College's student body now stands at 7,464, a record for the spring semester and one-third more than the school registered four years ago. And the number of Latinos attending the school continues to climb, now representing 56% of the student population.
With a spring head count of 13,796 students, Moorpark College remains the county's largest community college. The addition of 943 students has been felt in nearly every academic department, said Eva Conrad, Moorpark's executive vice president.
"If you look at what classes fill first, it's the basics--English, math, Spanish and the sciences," she said.
Ventura College's more modest growth of 270 students reflects that the school of 11,969 students is in an older area with fewer college-age students, said Alisa Moore, a campus spokeswoman.
College district officials believe that at least some of the growth is due to corporate layoffs linked to the state's beleaguered economy.
"Bad news on the job front is usually good news for us," Moore said. "When people lose their jobs, they often head back to school." Moorpark College President James Walker said increased enrollment, which averaged nearly 6% districtwide, could also reflect the beginning of a population boom among the county's teenagers.
The number of high school graduates in the county is expected to increase by 36% within six years, Walker said, and most college-bound seniors in the area attend local community colleges.
District officials are touting the latest enrollment data to build a case for a $356-million community college bond measure on the March 5 ballot. The bond money would be used to build and renovate buildings, parking lots and athletic facilities at the colleges.
Conrad of Moorpark College noted that her east county campus is nearing its 15,000-student capacity. To accommodate demand, Moorpark has already begun to offer weekend courses and is asking its faculty to share offices.
"We are out of space," she said. "We need new buildings, plain and simple."