Washington is putting billions of dollars into community colleges from two recent stimulus bills. That's going to help Erie Community College, which is dealing with a significant enrollment drop and the resulting income drop eating into college reserves.
Student enrollment has dropped nearly a third in the last five years, and there have been major drops in the fall (17%) and spring (18%) semesters of this COVID academic year.
In contrast to past hard times, Interim College President Bill Reuter said enrollment hasn't increased because people want to upgrade their skills or work in a new field. He suspects part of this is parents unable to go back to school themselves when the kids are at home for their own education. There is also less interest in areas devastated by COVID, like the the hospitality industry.
"We tracked new, returning, transfer student, high school students. Every area of the college was down," Reuter said.
He estimated that $24 million will be coming to the college from Washington.
"I don't see any buildings coming out of these funds," he said. "If there are additional federal dollars toward roads and bridges and buildings, then that's a different story. But from the CARES Act and the American Rescue Plan, it will be for operational needs, strategic needs and student needs moving forward."
Instead of construction, Reuter said the college will use the money to replenish its reserves.
"In the past two years, our fund balance, our reserves, went from $18.5 million down to $6.4 million. So we've had a dramatic decline. We are looking at less than one month's worth of reserves. We need to replenish our reserves," he said.
There is also another $18 million coming for students. Those students are showing much more interest in tech courses than in liberal or general studies, which tend to subsidize the tech courses that are more expensive to offer.