After more than a decade in decline, GCC enrollment on the rise

Students line up in the parking lot of Greenfield Community College on Wednesday for free ice cream from Ice Cream Emergency. After more than a decade of declining enrollment, the number of students at GCC increased this fall by the largest percentage since 2010, school officials say.

Students line up in the parking lot of Greenfield Community College on Wednesday for free ice cream from Ice Cream Emergency. After more than a decade of declining enrollment, the number of students at GCC increased this fall by the largest percentage since 2010, school officials say. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

Set up on the Greenfield Community College campus on Wednesday, Addie Stiles of Ice Cream Emergency gives a waffle cone sundae to GCC student Holly Tetreault of Greenfield. Next in line is student Isabelle Botelho of South Deerfield. After more than a decade of declining enrollment, the number of students at GCC increased this fall by the largest percentage since 2010, school officials say.

Set up on the Greenfield Community College campus on Wednesday, Addie Stiles of Ice Cream Emergency gives a waffle cone sundae to GCC student Holly Tetreault of Greenfield. Next in line is student Isabelle Botelho of South Deerfield. After more than a decade of declining enrollment, the number of students at GCC increased this fall by the largest percentage since 2010, school officials say. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

After more than a decade of declining enrollment, the number of students at Greenfield Community College increased this fall by the largest percentage since 2010.

After more than a decade of declining enrollment, the number of students at Greenfield Community College increased this fall by the largest percentage since 2010. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

By MARY BYRNE

Staff Writer

Published: 09-20-2023 7:03 PM

GREENFIELD — After more than a decade of declining enrollment, the number of students at Greenfield Community College increased this fall semester by the largest percentage since 2010, school officials say.

This semester also marked the highest number of applications received since 2018.

“I think it means that we need to continue to take very seriously our role in the community,” said interim Dean of Enrollment Services Patrick Tanner. “One of the most amazing things about community colleges is their relationship with the community — not that four-year institutions aren’t involved in their community; they are, but I really, really value the [philosophy] … that GCC has the potential to change family trees. We don’t take that lightly.”

According to GCC enrollment data, the fall headcount has declined since 2010, at which time there were 2,583 students. In fall 2022, there were 1,413 students enrolled.

As of Tuesday, 1,554 students were enrolled for the fall semester, Tanner said, representing an increase of nearly 10% over last year.

“We’re seeing students from all different backgrounds being excited to earn a GCC education, from dual-enrollment students to MassReconnect students,” Tanner said. “We’ve got recent high school grads and mid-career professionals.”

All 15 of the state’s community colleges were awarded $100,000 to implement MassReconnect — a program initiated by Gov. Maura Healey in her budget to establish free community college for adults 25 years old or older — starting this fall. To qualify for MassReconnect, students must be a permanent Massachusetts resident for at least one year at the start of the enrolled term. The program is limited to residents who have not previously earned a college degree (associate’s or bachelor’s) and who enroll in at least six credits per semester in an approved program of study leading to an associate’s degree or certificate at a community college.

As of last week, 120 students have benefited from MassReconnect at GCC, with 20% being new to the college. To honor the MassReconnect students, GCC President Michelle Schutt plans to hold a celebration for them at GCC next week.

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“I think one of the most amazing benefits is going to be in retention,” Tanner said of MassReconnect. “When life happens, especially to community college students, college can be the first thing on the chopping block. When the funding is there to be able to go, you can manage the rest of your life a whole lot easier. The things that might prevent somebody from continuing now are not the things preventing them from continuing.”

In addition to MassReconnect, the college attributes the enrollment increase to the implementation of a new course schedule designed for hybrid learning, increased workforce development programs, the expansion of its case management advising model and the implementation of technology solutions to promote retention. The application process has also made it easier and faster to apply to GCC.

“There is no singular solution to reverse a sustained enrollment decline,” Provost Chet Jordan said in a statement. “Under President Schutt’s leadership, the college took bold action in a number of critical areas simultaneously, including launching a new schedule and guided pathways.”

Through GCC’s improved class scheduling, students are able to pursue more college credits in a timely manner, which has resulted in an increase in courses taken by students this semester. This trend is expected to continue at GCC in the coming semesters as the college continues to implement Guided Pathways, a program that improves student schedules and credit efficiency, reducing time and costs for students.

“The growth GCC has experienced this fall represents an incredible opportunity for the entire Pioneer Valley,” Schutt said in a statement. “Education changes family trees and educated citizens lead to economic growth for communities. An increase in local college enrollment represents immense potential for regional advancement.”

Reporter Mary Byrne can be reached at mbyrne@recorder.com or 413-930-4429. Twitter: @MaryEByrne.