Economic decline drives enrollment boost this summer

OXFORD – Students are returning to summer school in larger numbers than last year at most Northeast Mississippi institutions of higher learning.
Those dealing with the influx say in several ways the growth is about the economy.
At Northeast Mississippi Community College, enrollment is up a whopping 17 percent.
“The big difference is adults returning to campus who’ve been in business and industry,” said Lynn Gibson, director of admissions and records at the Booneville-based college. “Some of them have been laid off two or three times, and they want to go into an area where that won’t happen again.”
Most health-related programs and the paralegal program are popular choices for such students, he said.
A similar story is playing out at Itawamba Community College, whose main campus is in Fulton. The college has seen a 14 percent increase this summer over last, with students showing a particular preference for health-related programs and “online class offerings of any kind,” said H.G. Jefcoat, ICC’s director of admissions and registrar.
“We have been increasing now for several consecutive years, but lately it has been at higher rate,” Jefcoat said. “People are retraining and upgrading job skills. Some have lost jobs, some wants better jobs (and) some are nontraditional students that in previous years were not interested in college.”
Overall summer enrollment at the University of Mississippi is up only one-half percent, but campus numbers are up. Oxford is 4.2 percent ahead of last year, Tupelo is 13.9 percent larger and the DeSoto campus has increased by 11.2 percent.
The modest overall figure is due to a decrease in some off-campus courses.
Dr. Phil Bonfanti, director of admissions and scholarships at Mississippi State University, said MSU is seeing an average 4 percent increase in summer enrollment this year.
“It’s linking back to the economy,” he said. Unlike at Northeast, however, Bonfanti said much of the university’s summer increase is due to returning students.
“Some of those are people who graduated and couldn’t find a job in their field,” he said. “Others are kids who would normally be at home, working a summer job but couldn’t find one.” Many decided to invest in their future marketability instead of sitting at home, either by getting ahead on their scheduled graduation or beginning work on an advanced degree.
“If you have the option of unemployment, underemployment or going to graduate school, I think most people would opt to further their education,” Bonfanti said.

Contact Errol Castens at (662) 281-1069 or errol.castens@djournal.com.

Errol Castens/NEMS Daily Journal