NEW ORLEANS — Community colleges around the country continue to do more with less, according to a new survey  of their presidents to be unveiled today at the annual meeting of the American Association of Community Colleges.
Sixty-nine percent of the 448 community college presidents and district chancellors surveyed last month by the Campus Computing Project, which conducted the research, reported that their institution’s headcount increased in winter 2011 as compared to winter 2010. In addition, 58 percent of those campus leaders surveyed reported that there was an overall reduction in their institution’s operating budget this year. (Forty-one percent said the cut was at least 5 percent.)
“These new data document the continuing challenges that confront the nation’s community colleges,” wrote Walter G. Bumphus, AACC president, in a statement. “During the current economic downturn, the nation’s community colleges have been called upon to serve many more students and to do so with significantly less resources.”
Bumphus, however, said in his keynote address to convention attendees Saturday that community colleges need to remind politicians of their "role as an equalizer." Only by "speaking with one voice" and refusing to be "timid," he added, can community colleges hope to seek legislative relief from their current budget difficulties.
The enrollment growth at community colleges does appear to be slowing. Previous Campus Computing Project surveys found that more than 90 percent of institutional leaders surveyed reported enrollment gains in 2009 and 2010. Also, the proportion of community colleges reporting enrollment growth of more than 15 percent in the previous year decreased from 31 percent in the 2010 survey to 12 percent in this year’s survey.
As for the financial picture, midyear budget cuts are becoming less common as the economic recovery continues. Thirty-one percent of community colleges reported them this year, compared to 54 percent last year and 61 percent in 2009. The average midyear cut also declined from 7 percent last year to 5 percent this year.
The survey also sheds light on the proliferation of online education at community colleges. Eighty-two percent of presidents reported that their online enrollment has risen in the past year.
“Student demand rather than efforts to reduce instructional costs clearly drives the gains in online enrollments in community colleges,” explained Kenneth C. Green, director of the Campus Computing Project — who also helped conduct Inside Higher Ed’s presidential survey  — in a statement. “The numbers are clear: 89 percent of presidents cite demand as the driver for more online education at their institutions, vs. 46 percent who view online education as a way to reduce instructional costs.”