Community colleges fueled much of the enrollment growth seen this year for the first time since the pandemic

Here’s what Philadelphia-area community colleges experienced

by Susan Snyder

Published Nov. 8, 2023, 2:54 p.m. ET

Undergraduate enrollment at the nation’s colleges rose for the first time since the pandemic started, according to the National Student Clearinghouse — and community colleges fueled much of that growth, a trend that rang true locally.

Nationally, overall college enrollment rose 2.1% or about 160,000 students. An Inquirer survey of 20 local colleges this fall found that slightly more than half reported that their overall enrollment was up.

» READ MORE: We surveyed 20 local universities about enrollment. Here’s what they’re seeing.

Meanwhile, enrollment at community colleges nationally jumped 4.4%, showing that they, too, are beginning to rebound from the pandemic. Helping with that growth was a boost in undergraduate certificate enrollment of 9.9% and an increase in associate’s degree program students of 3.6%, according to the Chronicle of Higher Education. And dual-enrollment programs that allow high school students to take college classes was up 8.8%, the Chronicle said.

Pennsylvania’s 15 community colleges mirrored that growth.

“Preliminary numbers indicate that enrollment at Pennsylvania’s community colleges is up 4% over last fall,” said Jason Kirsch, a spokesperson for the Pennsylvania Commission for Community Colleges. “Community college students in the commonwealth are also enrolled in more credit hours over last fall with an increase of 2.8%.”

» READ MORE: Here are fall 2022 enrollments for Philly-area colleges and universities

Here’s what Philadelphia-area community colleges saw with enrollment:

  • Montgomery County Community College’s enrollment rose 3.19% overall, while dual enrollment climbed 9.41%, the school said. A year ago, its enrollment was stable from 2021.
  • The Community College of Philadelphia saw double-digit percentage increases in multiple categories: new first-time students up 13%, transfer students 17%, and dual enrollment students 44%. Overall enrollment rose 5%, the college said. CCP also had seen an overall enrollment increase last year of 2.8%, from 2021.
  • At Delaware County Community College, overall enrollment is up 2.1%, the school said. Programs that saw double-digit percentage increases include workforce and economic development, communication arts, studio arts, carpentry, HVAC, welding technology and municipal policy academy certificates. And automotive technology and paramedic certificates were up over 100% each, the school said. That’s a shift from 2022 when overall enrollment there had fallen 8%.
  • While Bucks County Community College’s enrollment in associate degree programs fell 2.7%, the school saw a 10.3% increase in undergraduate certificate students and a 23.1% jump in dual enrollment, as well as increases in credits and new student enrollment. Bucks County’s overall enrollment last year was up slightly from 2021.

And in New Jersey, enrollment also was up:

  • Rowan College at Burlington County said in a statement that its fall enrollment increased slightly above the national average. It attributed most of that growth to students in degree programs. “Dual enrollment is up slightly, but this area has always done well, with 33 high school partners and more than 2,000 students enrolled yearly,” said spokesperson Gregory Volpe.
  • Camden County College is 1.1% ahead in credits compared with last year, a spokesperson said.

Susan Snyder