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Enrollment Up at All 3 County 2-Year Colleges

Officials credit a variety of programs and initiatives for the turnaround after three years of falling numbers.

September 21, 2006|Gregory W. Griggs | Times Staff Writer

After three years of declines, enrollment in the Ventura County Community College District is up at all three campuses, officials said.

Average enrollment at the two-year colleges in Moorpark, Oxnard and Ventura was up 4.4% during a head count in the fourth week of classes, officials said.

"There are many factors that led to our enrollment" gains, said Mary Anne Rooney, chairwoman of the district's board of trustees. "But the greatest thing is that our people are hustling."

Enrollment is not the only thing on the rise. District trustees also recently approved a $124-million annual budget, a $3.2-million boost over fiscal year 2005-06.

Rooney, a 1997 graduate of Oxnard College, said the district had improved its marketing plans, added new courses and schedules and stepped up outreach to high school students in an effort to boost enrollment.

"You can't say it was any one thing, but the combination of things," Rooney said. "If I had a 'magic bullet,' I'd do the same thing every year."

Moorpark gained 656 students for a total of 14,360, up nearly 4.8%; Ventura, with the second-largest student body, gained 592 students for a total of 12,167, up 5.1%; and Oxnard, the youngest campus in the district, picked up 188 students for a total of 6,447, a gain of 3%.

Moorpark College President Eva Conrad said most of the nearly 1,600 students her campus lost in 2003 and 2004 were adults 35 years and older who enrolled for just one or two classes. Back-to-back tuition increases, which more than doubled the price from $11 per credit hour to $26, is suspected of contributing to the decline.

"We are delighted that the sticker shock of two consecutive fee increases in 2003 and 2004 has lessened," Conrad said. A recent bill in Sacramento, which helped boost funding for colleges statewide, also will reduce fees to $20 per credit hour starting next year.

Changes to the course offerings to accommodate adult students helped bring more through the door, Conrad said. The school developed an accelerated, 19-month evening and weekend program for those seeking an associate's degree in business or child development. And to respond to students' need to be flexible, additional courses that start in September and October were added.

Joan Smith, executive vice president for student learning at Ventura College, said capital improvements on campus, such as new classrooms and a $30-million learning center, and new course offerings have helped attract more students.

This year, the Ventura College Foundation created a far-reaching scholarship program, called "Ventura Promise," which guarantees a year of tuition for any recent high school graduate in its service area whose family makes no more than $50,000 a year, regardless of the student's grade point average or SAT score. Eighty-seven students have taken advantage of the program.

Oxnard College interim President Robert Jensen, who took office two months ago, credited his staff with instituting most of the changes that helped attract more students.

Last spring, all district students were able to enroll for both the summer and fall semesters at the same time, which allows for better planning.

To ensure a high retention rate, Jensen said counselors at Oxnard, for the first time, called each student who hadn't paid tuition on time -- to either serve as a gentle reminder or to learn whether the college could provide financial assistance.

"We wouldn't have done that in the past. It's competitive out there for students," said Jensen, retired chancellor of Pima Community College District in Arizona. "I've been around a while and I know who butters my bread, and that's the students.... If we don't have students, we don't have jobs."

Changes both large and small should help keep enrollment rising, Jensen said.

Jensen instituted a policy that college staff should avoid switching their telephones to voicemail and instead answer questions from anxious students.

He also set up half a dozen tables around campus during the first two weeks of the fall semester to answer questions, sort of concierge desks for freshman. And to ease the pain of those dreaded long registration lines, the dean of students offered cookies and lemonade to those queued up.

Last week, Oxnard College announced receipt of a $3.5-million grant over five years from the U.S. Department of Education to increase the number of students it transfers to Cal State Channel Islands and UC Santa Barbara.

The added $700,000 annually will be used to improve academic training and services for those Oxnard students, targeting Latino and low-income students, who go on to four-year universities.

greg.griggs@latimes.com

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