Dothan, Ala. – Wallace Community College-Dothan (WCCD) has been recognized as one of the fastest growing community college in Alabama according to the 2015 Fastest Growing Colleges report published in Community College Week. The report is based on the most recent complete figures from the U.S. Department of Education and includes the top 50 colleges in four categories based on enrollment size. WCCD’s credit enrollment grew by 3.5% in the 2013-2014 school year, the largest increase in community colleges in Alabama with credit enrollments of 2,500-4,999.
“The results of this report affirm that the planning and the dedication of our instructors and staff have paid off,” said Dr. Linda C. Young, president, Wallace Community College-Dothan. “The report shows that WCCD is an attractive education option for students who are seriously engaged in improving their future.”
Enrollment trends at community colleges, which are typically influenced by economic factors, reached a record high in 2010, two years after the Great Recession of 2008. Nationally, there has been a steady decline in college enrollment due to more employment opportunities, a fact that encourages many students to return to the workforce instead of pursuing further education.
WCCD has been able to offset the trend by offering job-centric courses, community college advantages, and a lot of planning. Navigating future initiatives for Wallace includes long-term growth components that will grow its enrollment as area students take advantage of workforce-driven education to improve job-related skills, transition into a well-paying career, or receive academic credits to transfer to a four-year university.
The College has noticed several positive “niche” trends in enrollment. One such trend is dual enrollment, which owes its success to convenience of classes and word-of-mouth referrals among high school student peers. The program reduces the time that students spend in college by receiving both high school and college credit. College costs are reduced and the students receive a quality education. These courses, which are provided on campus or in area high school classrooms, have seen a significant trend upwards in the last five years with a 126% growth rate between fall 2010 to fall 2015.
Another trend worth noting is the increase in transient students who typically take classes during the summer to receive four-year university transfer credit. There were 233 transient students in the 2014-2015 school year, up from 63 in 2011. The extra classes can mean earlier graduation, reducing students’ tuition cost.
The College received several awards in the past year which indicate a trend toward advancing the institution’s mission and addressing the needs of individual students, all with an eye toward retention and completion.
Last January, WCCD was selected as one of the top 10 finalists nationwide for the Bellwether Awards, which recognize outstanding and innovative programs that are leading community colleges into the future. WCCD’s program, “A holistic instructional approach to effectively closing the student achievement gap by significantly improving student learning,” is based on faculty-driven change at the classroom level. As a result of this program, student success rates in the top ten enrollment classes increased 22.7 percent from fall 2011 to fall 2013.
The Alabama Association for Developmental Education recently recognized WCCD’s developmental math program. Many students are challenged by deficient skills to tackle college-level work, math in particular. WCCD’s math lab, which opened in 2012, is a popular destination on campus where students can take entry-level courses to assure success in Math 100, the entry-level math course. At a time when students can ill-afford these “catch-up classes,” WCCD charges one tuition to students who complete one or more developmental math courses in one semester. In addition, the College has waived the fee for Math 100 for these students. Completion rates for Math 100 have increased by 41 percent since the math lab opened.
Last fall, WCCD was named one of the best nursing schools in the eastern U.S. by Nurse Journal. It’s no surprise to students, instructors, and alumni of the program. Since the first graduating class in 1972, almost 4,000 nurses have graduated from the Associate Degree Nursing program. The Practical Nursing program has produced over 3,800 graduates since its first graduating class in 1953. A large percentage of nurses in area health facilities received their training at Wallace.
Increasing retention and graduation rates is another initiative that has yielded results. The “Get the Tassel” program, which is intended to increase the graduation rate, has raised student awareness of the importance of completing a degree. Community colleges have an “open door” policy, which gives everyone a chance at equal access to higher education. The final step in their education – the degree – is critical in giving students access to a living wage. Workers who have completed an associate degree will earn $500,000 more in their lifetime, a fact that is impressed on all students as they begin their WCCD journey. The College has conferred 51.7% more associate degrees in 2013-2015 compared to 2010-2012 school years. “We have not only increased ‘access,’ but also increased ‘success’ … a win-win across the board,” said Tony Holland, dean of instructional affairs.
In 2014, the Writing Center opened its doors on both the Dothan and Eufaula (Sparks) campuses to develop an “all students, all writing” community of student writers. Since then, the English department and Writing Center staff have collaborated to offer an English 101 portfolio program in which students select from learning opportunities to make 10 required contacts with The Writing Center each semester as part of their participation grade for the course. First-time students to English 101 who placed lower than 78 on the COMPASS placement test and who have visited The Writing Center have enjoyed increased success rates. In fall 2014 the success rate was 88%, up from the original baseline of 63.56%; the success rate was 97.6% in summer 2015. Since the Center opened, ENG 101 students have attended over 3,600 tutoring appointments and Writing Center events.
WCCD has big plans for future growth with the new Health Science Building, which is set to open this year. When completed, the new building will have classrooms, computer labs, skills labs, patient rooms, an emergency room lab, a mock apartment, x-ray rooms, CPR labs, offices, resource labs, simulation labs, and control rooms. The building will house all seven health science programs. Over 39% of WCCD students are health sciences or pre-health sciences majors. Graduates of these programs are a large component of the area’s healthcare workforce.
And WCCD’s success impacts the local and state economy. The most recent economic impact report by Economic Modeling Specialists, Inc. (EMSI) stated that WCCD’s impact on the Wiregrass economy was $183.6 million or 2% of the Wiregrass Region’s Gross Regional Product. Additionally, the Alabama economy will see tax revenues of $39.9 million due to WCCD students’ higher lifetime incomes.
While enjoying its success, Wallace Community College-Dothan’s robust planning initiatives have an eye on what’s next. The planning put in place today will assure success for a generation of future Wallace students.
George C. Wallace Community College-Dothan, a comprehensive community college, seeks to provide accessible quality educational opportunities, promote economic growth, and enhance the quality of life of its constituents. WCCD has campuses in Dothan and Eufaula (Sparks Campus).