Amid a nationwide downward spiral in higher education enrollments, Eastern Shore Community College enrollment continues to surge in this fall. Full-time equivalent enrollment (FTE) in the college’s academic programs is up by 22% at ESCC. Overall among Virginia’s community colleges, FTE enrollment is down 6% with some colleges experiencing double digit decreases.
FTE is a standardized measure of enrollment in the number of course credits.
According to the “Chronicle of Higher Education,” across the nation community college enrollment is off 7.5% this fall. Data from Virginia’s community colleges indicate only five of twenty-three colleges experiencing an upswing at this point, with ESCC 19 percentage points ahead of the college with the next highest enrollment increase.
The surge in fall enrollment continues a recent pattern at ESCC. Enrollment was up 30% in the summer, the second largest increase among Virginia’s community colleges, and in the Spring 2020 semester ESCC led Virginia with an 18% increase while the state average was -3%.
With fewer than fifty full-time employees, ESCC has shown that a motivated and driven team can achieve success, even with the challenges faced by colleges and students in the pandemic era of higher education.
Dr. Patrick Tompkins, vice president for academic, student, and workforce programs, attributed the consistent growth to service and strategy. “Our Student Services team is small, but they know students by name and provide concierge-like service to each one,” Tompkins stated. “In my two decades in higher education, I have never seen a team work so hard, care so sincerely, and achieve so much.”
ESCC implemented three strategic Big Ideas in recent months. Almost all classes are now offered in 8-week sessions to increase students’ opportunities for success. ESCC has scheduled on-campus Registration Rally days for October 1 and 6 for the 8-week session that starts October 21.
Another initiative, One Door, unites all of the college’s academic, workforce, and adult education programs to serve the needs and aspirations of each student. ESCC president Jim Shaeffer said, “We strive for a culture of inclusion for all of our learners.”
Shaeffer attributes the greatest impact to YES! which is the institution’s initiative that promotes hospitality, the highest standards of customer service, and commitment to the community. The YES! acronym stands for “Your Eastern Shore.”
An illustration of ESCC’s enrollment success can be seen when comparing ESCC, the state’s smallest college, to Northern Virginia Community College (NOVA), the second largest college in the nation. NOVA’s FTEs have increased by 150 this fall, while ESCC, sixty-seven times smaller than NOVA, increased by 75 FTEs.
President Shaeffer said, “I wish we could fully open the doors of our new $22 million dollar Academic Building to learners and Shore residents, but I am proud of how this college is serving the Eastern Shore through remote instruction and limited on-campus classes and services.”
ESCC attributes part of the enrollment growth to new students who planned to attend a four-year school, but opted for the local, safe, and cost-saving alternative of Eastern Shore Community College.
Patty Kellam, director of ESCC Foundation, believes that nearly $300,000 in new scholarship money also matters to students. “We were able to match almost every student with some kind of tuition support,” Kellam said. ESCC also launched the YES! Tuition Promise which guarantees eligible full-time students will receive enough aid to cover all tuition and fees.
“My colleagues ask me how ESCC is thriving while other colleges are struggling,” President Shaeffer said. “Some of it can be imitated, like our tuition promise and Registration Rally. But one part cannot be replicated, and that would be our people.”