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Kansas community colleges see drop in enrollment
Enrollment data presents an incomplete picture for Barton Community College

The Kansas Community College system, including Barton Community College, experienced a sharp decline in enrollment for the start of the fall semester, a direct result of COVID-19. The Kansas Board of Regents (KBOR) released enrollment data for the state’s universities and community colleges on Oct. 1. KBOR calculates full-time equivalency (FTE) by dividing the total number of undergraduate credit hours taken in a semester by 15.

Preliminary fall enrollment at Barton Community College was 2,293 FTE, down 12% from the 2,608 FTE in 2019. Barton’s FTE has declined by 20.5% over the past five years, from 2,885 in 2015. Barton’s headcount was 4,285, a 14.9% decrease from 5,034 in 2019 and a 31.8% decrease from 6,281 in 2015. The preliminary enrollment summer is always counted on the 20th day of classes.

Kansas community colleges typically serve students who face greater barriers to higher education, which were magnified by the pandemic, according to a news release from Heather Morgan, executive director of the Kansas Association of Community College Trustees, and Brandon Steinert at Barton Community College. In addition to the economic hardships being experienced by many Kansans, the disruption of K-12 education last spring and this fall hindered the assistance students would have normally received to enroll in fall classes, dual-credit classes, and/or SB 155-Excel in CTE (Career Technical Education) classes. In addition, the continuing concern about individual health and safety presented unprecedented challenges.

“The Kansas community college system looks forward to working with Kansas policymakers, industry leaders, and our secondary education partners to ensure students understand the value of higher education, and how the education and training they receive is critical to filling open jobs within the Kansas economy both today and in the future.”  

Barton Community College is set to receive about $181,000 in Strengthening People and Revitalizing Kansas (SPARK) relief funds provided from the state and distributed by Barton County to offset COVID-19 related expenses. Vice President of Administration Mark Dean expressed sincere gratitude for the assistance and the collaborative approach from the county. 

“COVID-19 has affected Barton the same as other higher education institutions across the country,” he said. “We have put in place very proactive measures to slow the spread. The safety of our students and employees is top priority, but personal protective equipment can get expensive. We’re very grateful to receive these funds through the county, and the Barton County Health Department has been fantastic to work with in the last few months. We appreciate their efforts.” 

"During economic downturns, the Kansas community college system has always been a key component of the economic recovery through training, re-training, and up-skilling employees to ensure they are able to return to the workforce swiftly," the news release stated. "Reaching out to any potential student who could benefit from higher education and/or training and connecting them with their local community college is an excellent action step that all Kansans can take to help their neighbors and the Kansas economy. Scholarships are available, and depending on income, these scholarships could fully fund the entire cost of community college education. As Kansans pull together to overcome our latest challenge, the Kansas community college system stands ready to assist students to ensure they receive the education or training they need to provide a prosperous future for themselves, their families, and the state of Kansas."

An outdated model?

Barton officials maintain that the enrollment measure is outdated and represents a fraction of the college’s enrollment. 

“The data released by the KBOR represents enrollment as of the 20th day of the fall semester. Decades ago, this was an effective measure because a semester was still the standard format for courses. However, Barton has 17 sessions that start throughout the year online, as well as seven cycles at the college’s campuses at Fort Riley and Fort Leavenworth in order to fit the schedules of soldiers on post,” the news release stated. “This means the only accurate way to look at enrollment at Barton is in retrospect at the previous academic year. For example, the fall 20th-day enrollment figure from KBOR for the 2019-2020 academic year was 5,034. However, the final tally was 13,389 at the end of the 2019-2020 academic year. The snapshot no longer represents how a college is performing relative to its peer institutions.”