WINCHESTER — Umpqua Community College officials attribute declining enrollment to limits on financial aid and a slightly improving economy but also to prospective students departing Douglas County.
“Students are leaving the area looking for work. People 39 and younger are leaving rural areas and that is a key demographic. It’s been a hit to enrollment at the college,” said Dan Yoder, UCC’s director of institutional research and planning.
Enrollment spiked during the recession, a predictable consequence of an economic downturn, Yoder said. Enrollment returned last year to more-normal prerecession levels but continues to drop. The fall quarter opened Monday with enrollment down another 15.75 percent from the same time last year.
Some students agreed that finances are at the root of falling enrollment.
“A lot of people can’t afford school anymore and can’t get the most financial aid possible,” first-year student Zachary Johnson, 18, of Roseburg said.
Joann Kelly, 22, of Roseburg, who is completing her GED certificate at UCC, blamed expenses for falling enrollment.
“People have a hard time working and going to school. Many have kids like me,” she said.
Student Cale Morgan, 32, of Canyonville said the only available jobs in Douglas County are in retail or the food industry. “The timber industry has been slow,” he added.
Second-year student Jennie Parker agreed that it’s been difficult for people to find work.
“I think it’s just (that) a lot of people are moving away. There are more seniors here and less people interested in careers. There are no jobs here,” Parker, 37, of Tenmile said.
Last year, UCC proposed a $40 million bond to construct new buildings on the Winchester campus and in Tri City. College officials said the buildings were needed to replace crowded and outdated classrooms, and serve students in South County. The bond failed, with 71 percent of the voters saying no.
Despite declining enrollment, UCC Vice President for Student Services Rick Aman said there is still a need for a health and science building, as well as more space for career technical programs, such as automotive and welding.
“Part of the purpose is to build enrollment in areas where there is career potential,” Aman said. “We are really interested in doing the right things to increase enrollment.”
Another obstacle students face are new rules for federal financial aid, which are requiring students to be more selective in the classes they take.
“Financial aid is probably the biggest reason enrollment is down. I feel like there are not as many scholarships out there, and the requirements are so high, students get passed by,” said student Summer Lara, 22, of Myrtle Creek.
The school offers seminars and other support to help students manage their money and apply for financial aid. Nevertheless, default rates on student loans have jumped from 8 to 9 percent before the recession to nearly 24 percent the past two years at UCC.
Aman blamed the default rate on high unemployment.
“Things haven’t bounced back as they have in the north valley. I think it has hurt students,” Aman said. “We are telling students to be cautious and to only take what they need so they don’t incur extra debt.”
• Reporter Jessica Prokop can be reached at 541-957-4209 and firstname.lastname@example.org.