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Enrollment falls for fifth straight year at Mississippi community colleges as economy improves


JACKSON, Mississippi — Enrollment has fallen at Mississippi's 15 community colleges for the fifth year in a row, as an improving economy continues to push down the number of students.

Figures released Friday by the Community College Board show that enrollment fell 2.5 percent statewide compared to last fall, dipping to 74,168.

Community college enrollment boomed during the recession as people sought job skills, hitting an all-time high of nearly 89,000 in 2010. But student totals at the two-year colleges have traditionally fallen in better economic times, and Mississippi's colleges have seen overall enrollment fall 16 percent since peaking.

Deborah Gilbert, the board's interim executive director, noted that while enrollment is falling, it remains above pre-recession levels.

"Prior to the fall 2008 semester, enrollment at our community colleges had never exceeded 70,000," Gilbert said in a statement. "Since that time, enrollment figures have fluctuated because of the economic recession but have never fallen below 70,000."

Student headcounts fell at 10 colleges. The system's two largest institutions, Hinds Community College and Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College, posted among the largest percentage declines, with enrollment falling more than 7 percent at Hinds and almost 6 percent at Mississippi Gulf Coast.

Five schools defied the trend, including Coahoma Community College, where student numbers jumped 8 percent, and Jones County Junior College, where enrollment rose 6 percent. One of the system's smallest institutions, Clarksdale-based Coahoma added more than 150 students. Jones opened its fourth off-campus center in Stonewall. Serving Clarke County, college officials intend to focus on training for students for oil industry jobs.

Enrollment at Mississippi's eight public universities hit a new high this fall, rising to more than 81,000 students. Community colleges had become larger, overall, than the universities at the height of the recession-induced boom, but have returned to be being smaller.

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