By JAMES HARTLEY
Last-minute extensions and late-start classes gave Eastfield the boost needed this semester to surpass enrollment numbers from spring 2016, but it wasn’t enough to meet campus goals.
In an effort to meet last year’s registration numbers, the Dallas County Community College District extended registration deadlines at all seven campuses for spring 2017.
Enrollment at Eastfield went from 14,234 in spring 2016 to 14,361, a 1 percent increase.
Enrollment dipped last spring for the first time since 2011, falling from 15,000 students the previous spring.
“Of course, in every semester we want to see a significant increase,” Associate Vice President Kimberly Lowry said. “I think the good news is our enrollment this semester is very consistent with where it was last spring.”
Long lines characterized weekend and late night registration toward the end of the enrollment period.
Joe May, DCCCD chancellor, said he believes problems with eConnect, the computer system that handles registration, were partially to blame for the low numbers.
“Our colleges did very well,” May said. “What we have is a student information system that was put in in the late ‘90s, and it’s really designed for the district at a different time. Our numbers were quite a bit smaller than they are right now. … In effect, it’s much like overloading when we’re in the midst of heavy registration.”
May said that the DCCCD is looking to replace eConnect with a new system built to handle the larger number of users.
“I can only imagine the frustration people feel when they’re trying to get in class, to get the knowledge skills they need to support them and their careers, and run into a system that is not able to handle that,” May said.
Lowry said power outages, campus closures and other technical difficulties added to frustration and likely hurt enrollment.
Still, Courtney Carter Harbour, executive dean of arts and communications, said the district might need to expect extensions in the future.
“The students were coming, but they were coming slowly,” Harbour said. “It seems to be a trend, unfortunately, that some of our students register late. Maybe we can explore as a college how we can encourage our students to enroll before they leave us when the semester concludes.”
Harbour said the Arts and Communications Division did well in enrollment and met its goals. She credits that to personal phone calls, emails and case management encouraging students who took arts and communications classes in the fall to enroll for spring classes.
Lowry said college administrators are looking into ways to increase enrollment in coming semesters.
“I think overall, sometimes when there’s changes in the economy, when there’s changes just in general, that can be reflected in the change of enrollment in the students at a college,” she said. “I will say that, as in institution, we always respond. We have more students in dual credit now. We have way more students doing other programs now, which is why our enrollment is exactly where it was last spring.”
Lowry said that Eastfield is focusing a lot of recruitment efforts in high schools, chambers of commerce and local businesses.
“We’re being more intentional about where we’re getting the word about Eastfield out,” Lowry said. “You may see billboards, bus stops, ads the Dallas Morning News. We’re also looking at how we market both internally and externally.”
She said other efforts, like the First Year Experience, which includes special advisers and orientation, a communication plan for checking in with students about their classes and plans for next semester and the special second-year advisers, have been a major part of Eastfield’s retention strategy.
May said the DCCCD is dedicated to finding any way possible to reduce the burden of college for students.
The DCCCD began offering free DART passes to students this semester, and May said the district is in talks with local food pantries to provide meals to students who cannot afford them.
“We really need to continue to get more people in the door, so we are going to focus on anything that’s a barrier,” May said. “It really is about how you are able to live your life so that it doesn’t get in the way of your ability or anyone’s ability to earn an education. From my point of view, that’s what we’re all about.”