Enrollment at Florida state colleges has plummeted 13.5 percent since reaching a peak of more than 375,000 full-time equivalent students in 2010.
A new estimate, approved by state analysts on Thursday, projects the equivalent of 324,426 full-time students, known as FTEs, attending Florida’s 28 state colleges this academic year. That’s a decline of 50,866 students from the 2010-11 year.
The actual head count of state college students is about 780,000 this year, down from a peak of nearly 900,000 in 2010. The FTE measurement accounts for the fact that more than six out of every 10 state college students go part-time, meaning each FTE actually represents about 2.5 students on a college campus.
Madeline Pumariega, chancellor of the state college system, said she is not surprised by the decline since college enrollment reacts to the economic cycle. State colleges were formerly known as community colleges.
“When the economy declines, enrollment soars,” Pumariega said. “People come back to college and take courses to get the jobs that are open.”
With the economy rebounding, Pumariega said more students are attending part-time, with the system’s part-time rate climbing from 63 to 65 percent.
“Why are they enrolled part time? Because they are working,” Pumariega said.
The economic rebound has also changed the type of courses that college students are taking.
When jobs were scarce, many students enrolled in state colleges but had to brush up on their academic skills. They took “developmental education” classes designed to improve skills in areas like math, before advancing to a regular college curriculum.
Students in developmental education classes peaked at 43,359 FTEs in 2010, dropping to fewer than 14,000 this year.
With the improved economy and expanded job opportunities, Pumariega said more students are enrolling in training and certificate programs that will allow them to get higher-paying jobs in fields like technology or health care.
The number of students enrolling to get advanced technical training or professional certificates and degrees has climbed from about 194,000 FTEs in 2009 to more than 218,000 this year, the new estimate shows.
“It says to us that students come to college to get the skills they need for a job,” Pumariega said.
The new numbers show the drop in state-college enrollment has stabilized in the past few years, with the new estimate of 324,426 FTEs representing only a 1 percent change from the 327,992 students enrolled last year.
Pumariega said she expects the current estimate to be adjusted closer to 326,856 students when analysts meet again in March to discuss the enrollment figures. That would represent a 0.3 percent decline from the prior year.
In another development Thursday, the Council of Presidents, which represents the 28 college presidents, voted unanimously to support a new funding formula for the colleges.
Pumariega said the changes “modernize” the funding formula, adjusting factors like a cost-of-living index and providing supplemental funding to smaller colleges while larger colleges with multiple campuses would also see an adjustment.
In a conference call with the presidents, Ed Meadows, president of Pensacola State College, called the agreement on the new formula “a major accomplishment.”
“I am just really pleased that we have come together this way,” Meadows said. “Spread the good news among our legislators that we have a consensus.”
The state college presidents are supporting a $100 million budget boost for their system in the 2017 Legislature. The additional money, which would include $40 million in performance funding and $60 million distributed through the formula, would be used to improve counseling services, tutoring, science and technology programs and campus safety.