Less than 24 hours before fall semester classes start, Miami Dade College is reporting a 16 percent decline in enrollment compared to the same period last year.
It is unclear at this time what the sharp decrease could mean, but enrollment makes up about 50 percent of the College’s revenue. They use student tuition and fees to cover operating costs, according to Juan Mendieta, the director of communications.
The state has already asked MDC to “hold back 6 percent of our allocation while they evaluate overall state funding,” according to Executive Vice President and Provost Lenore Rodicio.
“[The enrollment decline] will probably be felt throughout the entire institution and it will manifest in fewer opportunities for students and that’s probably in all kinds of ways,” said Elizabeth Ramsay, president of the United Faculty of Miami Dade College. “In terms of, you know, program offerings and all kinds of student support. And then of course, for everyone who’s employed at the college, it means fewer opportunities for employees as well.”
To offset the enrollment decrease, the College rolled out a myriad of strategies during the past few weeks. The campuses’ individual social media pages have promoted course offerings, virtual advisement rooms have been set up to assist students with registration and Kendall Campus hosted a drive-thru registration session on Aug. 26 that allowed students to register for classes, sign up for orientation and ask questions from their vehicles.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, unemployment in Miami-Dade County rose from 3.1% to 11.3% during the past year, ending in July. The coronavirus pandemic has played a big role in the uptick.
“[Sometimes] either the students or the parents are unemployed or they have reduced hours,” said Jairo Ledesma, a history and sociology professor at Homestead Campus. “A lot of our students fall below the poverty line so the cost of education—even with our low prices—is significant for them.”
The cost of tuition for 12 credits for a semester at MDC is $1,418.64.
To assist, the College has touted its MDC Cares scholarships through a marketing campaign to make students aware of available options to pay for classes. For instance, the Last Mile Scholarship covers the cost of tuition and fees for students who need 13 or fewer credits to finish their associate’s degree.
Despite the financial incentives, some students are hesitant to return until classes are in-person.
“A lot of students don’t learn that well online, they learn better in a face-to-face setting,” said Angelo Douillon, president of the Homestead Campus Student Government Association. “Seeing the probability that we won’t have [in-person classes] the whole semester, I think a lot of students are not going to enroll because they just don’t think that they would do good.”
But others are concerned they could be exposed to COVID-19 if the College returns to in-person classes on Sep. 28. Less than two weeks ago, MDC said it would decide by Sept. 14 whether to return to face-to-face classes this fall.
“A lot of people are afraid,” said Eduardo Calle, a music professor at Kendall Campus. “Any of us that have conditions that we have to monitor are very cautious about being in social settings and maintaining social distance and making sure that we’re protecting ourselves.”
Ramsay said MDC was not clear about the class modalities that are available.
“I’m quite sure that the primary reason [for low enrollment] is confusion as to the mode of delivery,” Ramsay said. “Students were informed how to find out if their class was remote learning but they weren’t told how they would be able to select remote learning. And I think many students would prefer that option.”
The last day students can register for the regular fall semester is Sept. 8. However, they can still register for 12-week or 8-week mini-terms.
“I think the College is making the best out of a bad situation,” Ledesma said. “The fact that we can keep going and keep teaching remotely is not the best scenario, but [it’s] the best solution right now.”