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Colleges in the Texas State Technical College System justifiably point out–frequently–that they are different from regular ol’ community colleges. Ceding that point, the dynamics of, for example, an automotive technical program at a community college isn’t so different from an automotive technical program at a TSTC college. Accordingly, rather than comparing total students, I thought I’d take a hard look at just the technical program enrollment at the various 2-year colleges in and around the Permian Basin, including TSTC West Texas, of course. (OK, Ranger College is on the periphery, but since plenty of West Texas people go there, I figured I’d include it.) Click on the image below to see how each of the colleges’ total technical enrollment changed, expressed in up or down percentages, over time:

Comparison of West Texas 2-Year College's Technical Enrollment % Change

Comparison of West Texas 2-Year College’s Technical Enrollment % Change

First, keep in mind that even with a plunging line, if that line doesn’t go below zero, that college gained technical students, and even if it’s on the rise but doesn’t exceed zero, then that college lost technical students that year. (See the raw numbers here.)

With a couple of exceptions, most of the pack, and TSTC was solidly in the pack, moved up in 2009 compared to 2008, the previous year. Ranger and Howard College dipped then, but they both started up the next year, and, percentage-wise, Ranger really increased its technical enrollment, although in terms of raw numbers, it wasn’t a whole lot of students.

In 2010 and 2011, however, TSTC West Texas was the clear bottom-dweller in terms of the percentage of technical students lost. Since this is a comparison of technical enrollment only, which should put all of these colleges on a relatively equal footing with TSTC West Texas, I have to believe that TSTC West Texas administrators made some decisions that turned it into that bottom dweller. Could it have been the decision to farm out its academics, making students who wanted an associate degree take online courses from other colleges? Whatever it was, TSTC sure enough took the lead in the race to the basement.

But NOW look at what is happening: TSTC’s technical student decline is slowing, and its line rose significantly going from 2011 to 2012 on the graph. Oh, to be sure, the line is still below zero for a net loss in raw numbers, but things are getting better, and, once again, it is solidly in the pack. The college’s technical student population declined only 3.9% last fall compared to a massive technical student drop of 21.46% the previous year. It was the academic student drop last year from 175 students to a mere 22 that really brought the total count down and socked it to the college statistically.

Again, the college may well stop the drop in fall 2013. Registration begins tomorrow at TSTC West Texas, and time will shortly tell. If administrators have learned anything from their mistakes, I hope it is that numbers really do matter–even with the new funding model. Those numbers particularly matter to laid off employees.

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