Casper College’s enrollment fell slightly this year, continuing a recent trend, though gains in part-time students helped buoy the numbers.
There were 1,623 full-time students at the college at the beginning of this academic year, compared to 1,736 at the start of fall 2016. The number of part-time students — which include high schoolers taking classes at the college — rose from 2,068 to 2,151, officials said.
There are a total of 3,774 students enrolled at the college, down by 30 attendees compared to last fall.
The percentage of students retained hovered in the low-to-mid 60s, near the state average.
“Enrollment is first and foremost to our mission here,” college spokesman Chris Lorenzen said. “So it is very important to us. ... We’ve been watching this really close.”
Enrollment struggles have plagued schools in Wyoming throughout the recent economic downturn. Hundreds of students — largely in the elementary schools — have left the Natrona County School District, taking with them a chunk of the district’s budget and forcing the school board to close five schools over a period of a year.
Meanwhile, the University of Wyoming — the state’s only four-year public institution — saw a decline of roughly 200 students last fall, thought it had a strong rebound to start this academic year with one of its largest-ever freshman classes. The president, Laurie Nichols, attributed part of that growth to the university’s new strategic plan and the priority it placed on boosting its enrollment.
In Casper, this year’s numbers show some reason for optimism because of the part-time enrollees, despite an overall decline.
Reasons for the downward trend can be difficult to determine. Lorenzen and admissions director Kyla Foltz said the bust may be a cause. Typically, the opposite is true: When the economy takes a turn for the worse, college admissions generally go up.
“It appears as though people left Casper to find work elsewhere,” Lorenzen said. “We didn’t see the bump in enrollment that you would see if that were a national trend or a national slump in the economy.”
For instance, in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis, the college’s enrollment hit a recent peak of more than 4,600 students. That sort of growth hasn’t happened in the recent, very Wyoming-specific, bust.
Still, Lorenzen and Foltz said the college is working to attract more students to campus. It’s removed some barriers, like allowing students who do not take classes in the spring semester to re-enter in the fall without having to re-apply. Officials have also fully rolled out programs to immediately notify interested students of their status and to keep current attendees informed of their status, both academically and financially.
The two officials said advertising and recruitment efforts are both also up.