Houston Community News >> Texas Community Colleges Surge in Popularity

10/25/2006 Houston- Texas community colleges grew nearly three times faster than the state's public universities this fall, widening an enrollment gap that coincides with rising tuition costs, according to preliminary numbers released Thursday.

The state's Higher Education Coordinating Board attributed 80 percent of the enrollment growth this fall to community colleges. Overall, 1,211,582 students are attending classes statewide – or 27,209 more than last year, a 2.3 percent increase.

"Clearly, we need even greater increases to achieve state participation goals," said Raymund Paredes, the state's commissioner of higher education told the Houston Chronicle. Community colleges now enroll 48 percent of students statewide, while public universities enroll 40 percent. More Texas students attended public universities than two-year schools until the middle 1990s.

The community colleges' enrollment growth has outpaced the four-year schools since the Legislature allowed public universities to set their own tuition rates three years ago, said Susan Brown, assistant higher education commissioner for planning and accountability.

This week, the College Board reported that the published prices at Texas public universities – $5,940 a year – climbed above the national average this fall for the first time since the state deregulated tuition. The state's community colleges, meanwhile, charged $1,607 a year, well below the national average for tuition and fees.

Hispanics accounted for 61 percent of the statewide enrollment growth, including rapid increases in South Texas, a predominantly Latino region that stretches from San Antonio to the Mexico border.

But Brown told the Houston Chronicle it's unclear if the change in the state's attendance patterns is a result of sticker shock among students and tuition-paying parents. Texas Southmost College in Brownsville and South Texas College in McAllen – both two-year schools – posted among the largest enrollment increases in the state this fall.

Hispanic enrollment also rose 12 percent in the North Harris Montgomery Community College District, outstripping its overall growth of 2.9 percent to 44,342 students this fall. The proportion of Hispanics among the district's student body has increased by 1 percent each year for the past seven years.

Meanwhile, the average age of the college district's students has dropped from 27 to 24, which officials attribute to rising tuition at universities, among other factors.

Houston Community College also added 1,434 students, or 4 percent, to 37,029. Carole Keeney Harrington, an associate vice chancellor, attributed the gains to aggressive recruiting and marketing efforts and popular dual-credit programs for high school students.

According to attendance figures from the 12th day of classes this fall, enrollment increased at Sam Houston State University (15,933), Texas A&M University (45,377) and the University of Texas at Austin (49,738). The University of Houston lost 253 students to drop to 34,329.

Texas Southern University's enrollment dropped 16.5 percent to 9,579 students, the largest drop among the state's public universities. The decline followed a year that included double-digit tuition increases, faculty and staff layoffs and an ongoing scandal that led to the firing of the Houston school's once popular president and criminal indictments.

While the statewide enrollment of Hispanic students rose this year by 16,608, or 5.2 percent, to a record 336,103, the numbers fell short of the coordinating boards targets for last fall. Higher education officials want to see greater numbers because Latinos represent the state's fastest-growing ethnic group.

Another reason for the enrollment shift is the rapidly increasing number of Hispanic students, who typically chose community colleges as a starting point for higher education, experts said.

(Contributed by Dallas Morning News)