Apr 4, 2022 - News

Community college enrollment drop leads to layoffs

Tennessee community college enrollment
Data: Tennessee Board of Regents; Chart: Axios Visuals

Enrollment declines at community colleges across the state are forcing "drastic decisions," including buyouts and layoffs.

  • An official with the Tennessee Board of Regents (TBR) said in a meeting last week that student headcount at the state's 13 community colleges hasn't been this low since 2001.

By the numbers: Community college enrollment stood at 74,543 last fall, down more than 14,000 students from pre-pandemic figures.

Why it matters: Sharp student declines are putting jobs at some colleges in jeopardy.

  • "Obviously when you've got that decline in a number of students, you've got to do some right-sizing," TBR chancellor Flora Tydings said at the meeting.

Driving the news: Twenty employees were laid off at Volunteer State Community College in Sumner County, while 13 open positions were eliminated.

  • Jackson State Community College also eliminated positions this year, while Pellissippi State in Knoxville is offering voluntary buyouts and not filling open positions.
  • Cleveland State and Walters State pursued reductions in 2021, according to TBR spokesperson Rick Locker.

What they're saying: "We've had dips before. We manage it to the best of our ability," Tydings said. "But at some point, you do have to step in and make some drastic decisions, and that's kind of the point where we are at this moment in time."

Zoom out: Community colleges in Tennessee are seen as a critical gateway into job training and higher pay for their students.

  • Shrinking rosters could further strain employers looking to fill jobs in many sectors.

Yes, but: Tennessee's network of 27 technical colleges has seen enrollment grow since the pandemic to 23,011, driven in large part by dual enrollment programs for high school students.

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