Palm Beach State College is expecting another enrollment hike for the 2017-18 academic year, and college leaders say they are prepared for the growth.
The full-time equivalent (FTE) enrollment was up 2.8 percent for 2016-17 compared to the previous year. That means that PBSC students, the majority of whom are part time, took far more classes. The student headcount also rose slightly to 49,303 students in 2016-17, up from 47,893 in 2015-16.
Despite the economic turnaround and low unemployment rate, which typically lead to an enrollment decline at higher education institutions, Palm Beach State College’s enrollment has continued to rise over the last several years.
“We’re expecting an increase; we’re just not sure what it’s going to be,’’ said Richard Becker, vice president of administration and business services. “The last several years have been a struggle for schools to have increases, so we’ve been doing extremely well.”
PBSC President Ava L. Parker said the school has planned for the increase.
“We are setting a goal of a 4 percent increase over our enrollment in 2016-17,” Parker said. “I am hoping that we will get that through new students and retention.”
To accommodate the growth, the college is working to ease parking concerns. For example, on the Lake Worth campus, the Security Office is coordinating with the Criminal Justice Institute to continue using the skid pad east of the campus for overflow parking. Students also can expect to see more foot patrol from security personnel, who will help guide them on campus and shuttle them to classes, Security Chief John Smith said.
The college also has 37 new faculty members coming on board this fall, including 10 resulting from the growth, and it is offering additional course sections.
“We’ve planned for the gradual enrollment [increase], which is healthy, by increasing the number of course sections strategically so that students who come to the college, especially at the last minute, will still have a reasonable number of choices for their schedule,’’ said Dr. Roger Yohe, vice president for academic affairs.
A new pilot program has launched to help lessen the time students wait in line to get help at the admissions, financial aid and advising offices. Who’s Next, a cloud-based tracking program, sends students a text message when staff is ready to serve them. The program allows the college to monitor wait times to adjust staffing when needed. While it is a pilot program on the Lake Worth campus, Dr. Peter Barbatis, vice president for student services and enrollment management, said the goal is to expand it to all campuses.
“They don’t have to stand there,’’ Barbatis said. “It will give students something else to do instead of just standing in line. They can go to the cafeteria. We’re really trying to change the whole experience for students.”
He and other PBSC leaders attribute the enrollment growth to many reasons, including the college’s aggressive recruitment strategy. Among them, staff text and follow up with students who enroll but do not sign up for classes.
The college also implemented strategic scholarships to assist students. “We’re using financial aid very strategically,’’ Barbatis said. “We’re helping students meet the gap between what they’re getting from federal financial aid and what they need for their classes. That’s the greatest impact we’ve had.”
Yohe said the growth is because of Palm Beach County citizens’ belief that jobs that require higher skills lead to higher wages.
“Our students coming to Palm Beach State realize that. It’s a way to a better life, given the changing economic conditions that face us,” he said. “More of our jobs in Palm Beach County are high-skill jobs, which lead to higher wages that will require some form of higher education.”
Barbatis said he is pleased to see that students are also taking more classes. “We want them to take more credits because they get closer to the completion line,” he said.
To see a list of helpful links for students as they begin the fall term, visit www.palmbeachstate/studentupdates.
Serving 48,000 students annually, Palm Beach State College is the largest institution of higher education in Palm Beach County, offering more than 130 programs of study at locations in Lake Worth, Boca Raton, Palm Beach Gardens Belle Glade and Loxahatchee Groves.