Enrollment at Pellissippi State Community College is down 12.7% compared to last fall, with 9,334 students.

Until COVID-19 hit, Pellissippi State had expected enrollment to remain about the same as last year, with 10,694 students.

Almost immediately, however, the college saw a sharp decline in applications. By the end of an extended spring break in March, applications were down by about 1,400. “We never really caught up,” said Leigh Anne Touzeau, assistant vice president for enrollment services.

“At the beginning of April and May, we were down as much as 20% in enrollment,” she said, as students were registering for the fall semester.

Pellissippi State followed up with phone calls to everyone who had an application in the system, discussing how classes would be conducted during the pandemic.

Across Tennessee’s community colleges, the head count this semester is down 10.2% compared to 2019, based on a snapshot of data from the 14th class day. All of the community colleges showed a drop from the previous year, from 20.6% at Southwest Tennessee to just 3.4% at Volunteer State.

For Pellissippi State, the sharpest drop appears to be in adult students who apply for the Tennessee Reconnect program. The “last-dollar” grant is applied to tuition and mandatory fees after federal and state aid.

Tennessee Reconnect applications were down 15%, and ultimately the number of Pellissippi State students with a Tennessee Reconnect grant was down 12% from the previous year, to 1,015.

Touzeau said the college hopes to begin next week surveying prospective students about the reasons they ultimately did not attend. Among the reasons they suspect may be parents unsure about their children’s school attendance, job changes and family health issues.

The college also plans to highlight the successes of adult students who have been able to complete their degrees and to possibly offer additional scholarships to students nearing completion of their degrees for costs not covered by some student aid, such as books.

Dual enrollment of high school students also is down by about 200 students this year, after a record high of about 1,400 last fall, according to Touzeau, possibly because of difficulty reaching students with information during the pandemic.

The college is preparing a virtual “Fall Preview” on Oct. 3 and is holding online events with high schools for topics that will include completing the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid), as well as applying for the Tennessee Promise Scholarship and to Pellissippi State.

Traditionally, community college enrollment rises when the economy goes down. “This is a very odd situation,” Touzeau said. “It’s not matching what we usually see.”

While earning an associate’s degree may cost $8,000 to $9,000 with no financial aid, on average that can lead to lifetime earnings that are hundreds of thousands of dollars above what someone with only a high school diploma will earn, according to the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce.

In some career fields, a person with an associate’s degree may earn more than someone with a bachelor’s degree, the center’s reports state.

“We are a wonderful value for students of any age, Touzeau said.

Amy Beth earned her degree from West Virginia. She joined The Daily Times in 2016 on the education beat covering Alcoa, Maryville and Blount County school systems.

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