College enrollments soar in Miami-Dade as jobs decline
By Elsie Puig
As a side effect of Miami-Dade County's 11.7% unemployment, enrollment has soared at four colleges and universities here.
The fall surge swept over Florida International University, Miami Dade College, St. Thomas University and Florida Memorial College.
Enrollment at two others, the University of Miami and Barry University, didn't balloon, officials said, but applicant pools swelled — up 11% at Barry, where a less than 1% enrollment gain still set a record 8,631 students.
"When the economy is down and unemployment is rising, community colleges see surges in enrollment as people return to college for retraining or to complete degrees in an effort to get better jobs," said Mercedes Amaya, financial aid director for Miami Dade College, where the fall term started with a record for-credit enrollment of 64,060. Additionally, 33,000 new students were admitted, up 5,958 from fall 2008.
"Our enrollment could have been much higher but the college was unable to add more class sections," said Dulce Beltran, the college's registrar.
Responding to the recession, many prospective students who would have enrolled at private or out-of-state schools decide to enroll at more affordable local universities and colleges. But that doesn't mean those schools can accommodate every new student
"Those who would have potentially ended up at UF now go to FIU, and those who would have gone to FIU end up in MDC, but what about those who can't get accommodated into MDC?" asks Benjamin Baez, professor of higher education at Florida International University.
FIU, which with nearly 12,000 new students, including undergraduates and graduates, hit an enrollment of 39,499, was only able to add 64 new class sections.
Miami Dade, which wasn't able to add any new sections, estimated 30,000 students can't take all the classes they need, and 15,000 prospective students couldn't enroll at all because there was no room for them.
"This fall, less class sections are being offered, classes are larger and there are less faculty members on the payroll," said Steve Kelly, FIU's interim associate vice president for enrollment services. He said many students complain they can't take the classes they need.
FIU applications have grown substantially, but state funding per student has been lagging behind since 2006, forcing FIU to become more selective in admissions.
Other universities face similar growth: St. Thomas's enrollment jumped 14%, which university officials see as higher than average. Florida Memorial University's rose 10%. Additionally, applications for institutional, federal and state scholarships are on the rise.
FIU has more students eligible for federal Pell grants, which go to high-need or low-income students. It's estimated the number has shot up from 7,277 in 2000 to almost 11,000 in 2009.
"Financing students is always very critical," said Roscoe Warren, director of enrollment management at Florida Memorial University. "We have seen a bump in Pell grants at the federal level, but it is usually offset by the decrease at the state level."