Grand Rapids Community College’s enrollment is up for the second time in 10 years. As of Sept. 25, there are 12,134 students enrolled for the fall semester, compared to the 11,704 from this time last year. This is a roughly 3.2% increase despite a years-long trend of declining college enrollment nationwide.
Since 2011, enrollment at GRCC has been slowly trending downward because of a relatively stable job market, COVID-19, declining birth rates, and consequently smaller graduating classes.
So why has enrollment increased this semester despite this?
“This is the first semester that’s felt the most normal…since before COVID,” said Lori Cook, Associate Dean of Access & First Year Success. “The first day of classes really felt like the first day of classes in terms of activity…I think it took a while, as we all know, to recover from the pandemic, and some students just put off school and now (they’re) ready to come back.”
Cook attributes the increase in enrollment to state incentives for college education, recruitment efforts, and a variety of course offerings.
According to Cook, there was a 5% increase in new student recruitment this semester. GRCC has three recruiters that recruit from over 100 schools located mostly in and around Kent and Ottawa counties. She says the increase in enrollment is due in part to state programs such as Michigan Reconnect and Grand Rapids Promise Zone, along with the new Michigan Achievement scholarship that took effect in 2023 which allows new high school graduates or equivalent certificates to be eligible for more financial aid.
Cook projects that Michigan Reconnect will have an even greater impact on enrollment in the future. The state is temporarily dropping the age to be eligible for the program from 25 to 21. This expansion ends on Nov. 15, 2024.
GRCC administrators are unsure when this change will take effect but hope that it will change by the start of the winter semester.
Enrollment at GRCC is still far from what it was before the decline. In 2010 there were 17,920 students enrolled. That’s 5,786 more students than this year. GRCC also fell short of its goal to enroll 12,134 students this fall, which was what enrollment was at in 2021. Cook is still hopeful that enrollment will continue to increase as GRCC adapts to the changing needs of its student body.
“I think what we learned during COVID is students do want options,” Cook said. “And now we have a nice offering of classes that are in-person, or hybrid, or online, so you can do what fits you. …We’re just working as an institution to (make) sure we’re always reading and watching that carefully so we can meet students’ needs and what they want.”
GRCC’s student population has grown more diverse over the past 10 years. The percentage of Hispanic/Latino students has increased from 8.3% in 2013 to 18.5% in 2023. The percentage of white students has also dropped from 69.4% to 54.9%. Female students continue to outnumber male students on campus, now making up 55.1% of the student population.
“…We’re moving in the right direction,” Cook said. “And I think that says a lot about what GRCC has to offer and all that we do here.”
More in-depth information on Fall 2023 enrollment will be made available by Institutional Research later in the semester. 2023 data as of Sept. 18 can be found here. Comprehensive Fall 2022, 2018, and 2014 data can be accessed here.