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In down economy, enrollment is up at Alex Tech

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Here's a bright spot in the economy's dark days:

Enrollment is up at Minnesota universities and technical colleges.

Just-released numbers show that the student head count at Alexandria Technical College (ATC) totals 2,477 this fall - an 8 percent increase from last fall's count of 2,299.

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"We've had a great start," noted Kevin Kopiscke, ATC president, when contacted by the newspaper last Friday.

He added that 13 of the college's programs are filled right now, compared to three at this time last year. "There's a tremendous interest in courses here as well as programs," Kopischke said.

More students are enrolling at the ATC to access general education courses or liberal arts classes without yet deciding on a specific career program, Kopischke said.

"Roughly 60 percent of our students are undeclared," he said. "That's very different from five to seven years ago when the college was very program driven."

A growing number of students are also enrolling in the ATC's online courses, which contributed to the 8 percent enrollment increase, Kopischke said.

Another factor that has helped enrollment is relatively stable tuition rates. The ATC's board of trustees was able to keep the tuition increase to a modest 2 percent this year, Kopischke said.

The ATC's enrollment surge is typical of what's happening at other institutions within the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities (MnSCU) system.

More students poured into the Minnesota's 32 state colleges and universities this fall than ever before, resulting in the largest increase in the number of students since the system began, officials said last Wednesday while releasing enrollment figures.

MnSCU now has 198,792 students or 12,641 more students than last fall when 186,150 students were enrolled.

That's nearly a 7 percent increase. Previously, the largest increase in the fall head count was 9,023 additional students in 1999.

Also, this is the fourth consecutive year that the system's fall enrollment has set a record high.

Enrollment increases were particularly strong at the system's 25 community and technical colleges. Thirteen colleges had increases greater than 10 percent.

"We know the economy was a major factor driving this enrollment boom," said Chancellor James H. McCormick. "This unprecedented growth comes at a time when budgets have been cut at the state colleges and universities so faculty and staff are working harder than ever to serve students. We especially welcome the opportunity to serve displaced workers seeking to retool and upgrade their knowledge and skills."

Enrollment was up in nearly all categories. The number of students of color this fall grew by 18.7 percent, from 27,446 to 32,585, while enrollment of white students was up 8.6 percent.

In recent years, the colleges and universities have expanded programs to recruit and retain more students from groups traditionally underrepresented in higher education - students of color, low-income students and students who are the first in their families to attend college.

Enrollment of high school students in college courses, through the Post-Secondary Enrollment Options (PSEO) program, grew by 4.8 percent. Under Minnesota law, high school students can take courses tuition-free at the state's public colleges and universities.

The number of students taking online courses, which includes credit and noncredit courses, grew by 21.7 percent to 47,794 this fall. The system offers about 200 programs completely or predominantly online through Minnesota Online (www.minnesotaonline.org), the largest provider of online education in the state.

Full-year-equivalent enrollment is projected to increase by almost 5.5 percent for the current year. Full-year-equivalent enrollment is calculated by adding the credits taken by all students and dividing by the number of credits considered to be a full-time course load - 30 credits per year for undergraduates and 20 credits for graduate students.

The colleges and universities project a full-year-equivalent enrollment of 151,805 for the current year, compared with the actual full-year-equivalent enrollment of 143,924 for the 2008-2009 academic year.

The numbers released last week are the official enrollment count of students taking credit-based courses on the 30th day of the fall semester.

MnSCU comprises 32 state universities and community and technical colleges serving the higher education needs of Minnesota. The system serves about 250,000 students per year in credit-based courses and an additional 140,000 students in non-credit courses.

To see the enrollment report, go to: www.mnscu.edu/media/newsreleases/2009/images/ Fall_09_30thday_enrollment.pdf.

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