Rocky Mountain College has managed to maintain relatively steady enrollment amid the coronavirus pandemic. The pandemic began affecting RMC with all classes going online starting in March 2020. At the beginning of the Fall 2020 semester, some classes returned to an in-person format, with social distancing and sanitation measures in place.
Changes to campus life included canceling events, moving some classes online, and converting spaces like the gym and library into classrooms in order to accommodate social distancing. Masks are required at all times on RMC’s campus when in shared spaces. Fall sports events involving spectators were canceled in accordance with CDC guidelines for large gatherings.
Despite changes to the college experience that may otherwise deter students from enrolling in or continuing to attend college, Rocky Mountain College has retained a great majority of students.
According to the minutes from a January faculty meeting, “The budgeted number of full-time undergraduate students is 763; we expected to have 730 this semester, and currently have 747 full-time undergraduate students. The census date is not until next week and numbers can still change even after the census date.” Efforts on the part of RMC’s faculty to retain students at risk of nonreturn have also paid off. “The faculty’s effort to notify us of students they felt were at risk of attrition helped us retain more students than we expected.” RMC staff reached out to students that were deemed to be at risk and gave them the support necessary to maintain their enrollment.
RMC’s close knit community of students and staff, as well as personal relationships between students and faculty, may be a contributing factor to maintaining student numbers moving into the Spring 2021 semester.
The overall drop in college enrollment nationwide now hovers around 2.5% lower than previous years. The combination of the pandemic and the recession has affected a number of businesses, with colleges and universities being no exception. Overall some institutions are generally more affected than others; this appears to be mostly due to the clientele that is served.
RMC’s maintenance of student numbers seems to be roughly on par with the national average, as public 4-year institutions and private nonprofit 4-year institutions (such as Rocky Mountain College) both saw minimal impacts from the pandemic. Public 4-year colleges were the least affected and saw a drop of just .4%. Private nonprofit institutions similar to RMC were second in line for the least impacted and saw a drop of 3.8% from past years.
It seems that the hardest hit institutions are those that serve low-income Americans. Some early projections from last year proposed that community colleges would see an increase in total enrollment, as students choose to stay home in lieu of returning to 4-year institutions. This is apparently not the case. According to Student Clearinghouse, community colleges saw the largest drops in enrollment. The drop seen is estimated to be around 7.5%. Such institutions often serve low-income students and communities of color, who have been hit hardest by the pandemic.
A variety of factors appear to have affected the maintenance of enrollment at RMC this spring, but it is apparent that RMC’s students have a desire to continue their education at Rocky, with or without coronavirus restrictions.