Community Colleges Make Massive Layoffs In Response To Declining Enrollment

As one state faces dire college enrollment numbers, they are forced to address the issue with college staff layoffs.

By Erika Hanson | Published

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college staff layoffs

Every state is complaining about alarming college enrollment declines, but possibly none so much as Tennessee. The historic decline said to be heightened by the pandemic has seen more than one million fewer students enroll in college in the United States than in the post-covid world. Getting its fair share of tribulations from this, many Tennessee community colleges are now faced with what they say is unavoidable: an uptick in college staff layoffs.

Axios Nashville has reported that community colleges across The Volunteer State have been dishing out college staff layoffs and position cuts as a means to address steep enrollment declines. During a quarterly board meeting last week, the state’s 13 community colleges reported their lowest enrollment figures for the year since 2001. At the start of the school year this fall, Tennessee’s college enrollment sat at 74,543. This was a loss of more than 14,0000 enrolled students from the fall of 2019, right before the pandemic hit.

To enact the college staff layoffs, Volunteer State Community College in Gallatin, Tennessee fired 20 staff members and removed 13 open positions. At Jackson State Community College, the administration has announced they will be eliminating more than 20 positions by June. Similarly, the college will merge its separately existing nursing and health science departments, while the business and computer information technology programs will also merge. Already this year, colleges like Walters State and Cleveland State have enacted staff reductions.

college staff layoffs

But still, Tennessee education leaders are hopeful for the future of community colleges. “We’ve had dips before,” said Flora W. Tydings, chancellor of the Tennessee Board of Regents system. Surprisingly, statistics do, in fact, show that college enrollment declined in the state long before COVID was a household name. To combat that, and avoid college staff layoffs, the state launched Tennessee Promise.

The Tennessee Promise program was enacted in 2015. Administered by the Tennessee Student Assistance Corporation, it’s a scholarship program that pays college tuition for Tennessee students that attend a two-year community college. Doing what it was supposed to, the scholarship program saw promising results in the first year, with nearly 65% of high school graduates enrolling in college courses after graduation. College enrollment jumped 6% that year. But by the next year, enrollment perpetually dropped yet again, leading up to today where community colleges feel the only answer is college staff layoffs.

college staff layoffs

But some education leaders feel that the Tennessee Promise program can still work to increase enrollment and stop schools from being forced to enact college staff layoffs. To do so, however, changes to the program are being discussed. The Comptroller’s Office recommends that state lawmakers should consider several policy changes. To start, they think they can appeal to more students if they change the community service requirement in order for students to be eligible for the scholarship. Likewise, some would like to see the required number of credits students must take each semester to be lowered to accommodate students who wish to attend community college part-time. 

Tennessee isn’t the only state concerned about the future of community colleges. And as more data showing steep enrollment declines continue, states shuffle to find any means necessary to avoid college staff layoffs. But like Tennessee, many colleges are facing the fact that they may have no other choice soon if something doesn’t change.