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Being the Best We Can Be

Posted: August 22, 2018 — The higher education student market has become increasingly competitive. It is no secret that enrollment at Fulton-Montgomery Community College has been on the decline over the past five years. This after a record high enrollment in 2008. Why is enrollment declining?

There are several reasons for enrollment declines in higher education and it is hitting nearly every college in the nation. First, there are fewer college-aged students in the country. Looking at our region, school districts are serving fewer students, thus there is a smaller pool of high school graduates to recruit. Second, the economy is doing well, and has been for a few years. That means that if young people want to work, rather than attend college, there are jobs for them.

Third, and this is big, the demographics in the country are shifting from a majority white population to a much more diverse population. While that in and of itself doesn’t explain the decline, you have to look deeper. The growing populations in the country – Blacks and Hispanics – have tended to attend college in fewer numbers. Lastly, the international student population is on the decline in the U.S., primarily because of the rhetoric coming from Washington, D.C. There is a growing belief among potential international students that they are not welcome in the U.S. Thus, Canada and Australia are seeing increases in international students while the U.S. is seeing a decline.

All of these factors mean that FM must be the best that it can be to attract and retain students in this extremely competitive environment. FM must offer the best academic programs that it can offer in order to meet the needs of employers, transfer colleges and the students. It must have facilities that attract students and make students proud to attend. These facilities must make students feel welcome and provide space for them to study, socialize and have quiet time as needed. We have to provide extra-curricular activities that are fun and provide students opportunities to meet other students and share ideas. FM must offer services that support students as they pursue their degree; and we must offer them in a way that is proactive – reaching out to students – not passive – waiting for them to ask. We have to provide an atmosphere that makes students want to come and stay.

FM has an advantage over many other colleges; while other institutions are trying to become more personal and attractive to students, FM has always been an institution that cares about its students and provides a personal approach to the needs of our students. I, along with two other members of the leadership team, recently attended a conference on small college enrollments. While garnered a few tips, it was rewarding to witness that while many institutions are working on how they attract and retain students, FM is already doing nearly all of the things that were suggested. More importantly, FM already has a culture that others are trying to develop. That’s why FM is a special place. The students who attend will tell you that FM is more than they ever thought it would be when they first enrolled.

Colleges are trying to be the best that they can be; and FM strives to improve every day. However, we are well on our way!

This article was written by Dustin Swanger, Ed.D., President of Fulton-Montgomery Community College.

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