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It’s about time to start watching that bellwether fall semester’s registration at the Texas State Technical College West Texas. As some readers may already be aware, TSTC West Texas has experienced an impressive, some would say catastrophic drop in enrollment, whether looking at annual unduplicated headcount or the fall term, which seems to set the pace for the rest of the year.

Whether considering annual headcount or the fall term, last year, 2012, continued the downturn in TSTC West Texas’s enrollment numbers, and it’s important to understand what has happened in the past to understand what is happening or may happen now. First, let’s look at annual unduplicated headcount and the numbers TSTC West Texas reported to the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board (Co-Board) and published on its site, “The Texas Higher Education Accountability System.”

TSTC WT Annual Unduplicated Headcount

TSTC WT Annual Unduplicated Headcount

I would say dropping some 9,141 registrations from a high of 10,648 is a fairly steep drop, eh?

(To access annual headcount information for themselves, readers should go to the site linked above, then, on the upper right section of the page titled “Interactive Access to Data,” select “Texas State Technical Colleges and Lamar Colleges. ” Leaving “all” in the “Year” drop-down box, click “Go.” Click the “+” next to “Key Measures” in the box on the left of the new page that appears, then click the “+” next to “Annual Unduplicated Enrollment.” Next, place a check mark in the selection box next to “Total.” Then, go over to the right side of the page, select “Texas State Technical College – West Texas” and click on “Generate.” The curious will get the total annual unduplicated headcount for TSTC West Texas since FY 2000 through 2012.)

Now for the fall semesters’ performance.  The excerpt below is taken from an Abilene Reporter-News story titled “New Outcomes-Based Funding Model in Use at TSTC West Texas.”

According to its website, TSTC West Texas had 1,882 students at its campuses in Sweetwater, Abilene, Brownwood and Breckenridge in fall 2008. Fall enrollment was 1,703 in 2009, 1,410 in 2010 and 1,036 in 2011.

Cromeens said enrollment this fall went up to 1,071. She noted the placement rate for the Sweetwater campus for the fall 2011 to spring 2012 was 96 percent and 90 percent for the Abilene campus. Numbers for Brownwood and Breckenridge campuses were not immediately available.

“We completely changed our way of looking at traditional education,” Cromeens said. “We’re not worried of getting them in: we’re focused in getting them out and getting them jobs.”

Sadly, the 2012 number of 1,076 offered by TSTC spokesperson Julie Cromeens turned out to be a bit optimistic. Far from experiencing an increase, the real number, as revealed on the Co-Board’s Accountability site, was 810, a drop of 196 paying students.  Accordingly, the bellwether fall term fell from a high of 1,882 enrollments in 2008 to way less than half of that number to 810. (Again, go to the Co-Board’s Texas Higher Education Accountability System website. Under the heading “Participation,” on the left side of the page, click on “Texas State Technical Colleges and Lamar State Colleges.” Then, on the next page that appears, select “Texas State Technical College West Texas” in the drop-down box in the upper left of the page. Those 810 registrations for fall 2012 will appear before your very eyes.)

Take particular note of Cromeens’ statement in the excerpt above that would seem to pertain to the lower numbers, to wit: “We’re not worried of getting them in: we’re focused in getting them out and getting them jobs.”

With that in mind, readers are invited to take in the following three e-mails I obtained through the Texas Public Information Act not too long ago.  These administrators sure seem concerned about “getting them in.” In a bid to get new students, the were even waiving bacterial meningitis requirements, among other things.

Lawrence-Bailey-Butler Waivers 120821

For the curious, click on the link below to read the law concerning bacterial meningitis immunizations and the very specific requirements regarding who can be waived:

Sec. 51.9192.  BACTERIAL MENINGITIS VACCINATION REQUIRED FOR CERTAIN STUDENTS; EXCEPTIONS.

Next, administrators discussed “breathing life” into the Sweetwater campus, the college’s main campus, by the way.

Lawrence-Butler Breathing Life 120712

And then this one, which discusses the plight of the Culinary Arts Program well into August, the same month the semester began:

Lawrence-Smith-Love-Stokes Culinary Arts 120808-120809

Finally, please allow me to point out that administrators have begun closing whole buildings, a process they call “mothballing.” The incredulous may once again go to the Co-Board’s Higher Education Accountability Site and, under “Institutional Efficiency and Effectiveness” select “Texas State Technical Schools and Lamars” on the right side of the page. Then, in the drop-down box that will appear at top left, select TSTC West Texas.) Specifically, they are discussing their Space Utilization Efficiency, or SUE score, to wit:

TSTC West Texas has undergone changes in the past several years that have adversely affected our SUE score. In an attempt to reach more students, we moved several programs to a 100% online teaching format. After a test pilot, as a technical school, we realized many of our students and our course offerings are not suited for this teaching methodology. With this finding and the advent of our new funding formulary, we have moved many of these programs to a hybrid format implementing more hands on training. We have also implemented efficiency measures, such as, moth-balling buildings until they are needed again, making space available to other agencies and developing partnerships with other educational institutions. The culmination of all these efforts will result in a higher SUE score in the future.

So here we are, staring the fall 2013 term, which begins in August, and its registration period, in the face.  I’m thinking anxiety levels are still running pretty high over there since the fall 2012 term resulted in yet another drop.

At the risk of repeating myself, will this fall fall? If it does, just how far can it fall at a college already mothballing buildings and waiving immunization requirements?

Time will tell, and I’ll be watching.

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