Correction to This Article
An earlier version of this article incorrectly reported the initial enrollment at the Community College of the District of Columbia. The number of students who enrolled in the fall was 1,779, not 960. This version has been corrected.

Rising enrollment is a mark of success for new D.C. community college

By Stephanie Lee
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, July 12, 2010

The only community college in the District is less than a year old, but it is attracting students as demand for postsecondary education booms.

The Community College of the District of Columbia split off from the chronically troubled University of the District of Columbia in August as an open-admission, two-year institution -- a change instituted by UDC's new president.

It has taken over UDC's associate degree, certificate and workforce training programs, and the university has become a four-year "flagship" with selective admissions. The executive director of the community college reports to UDC President Allen L. Sessoms.

Although education experts generally say that 11 months is not enough time to definitively assess an institution, a number of promising signs have emerged from the community college's first year. Rising enrollment is one: The number of students started at about 1,779 in the fall, then more than doubled to 2,335. Nearly three-fourths of the roughly 700 first-time freshmen stayed the full year, and campus officials say half have registered for fall classes. Already, 116 students have earned degrees from the institution, thanks to previously accumulated credits from UDC.

Although the community college shared facilities and classes with UDC last year, it is also slowly increasing its offerings. It has more than 35 full-time faculty members and two dozen associate degree and certificate programs, with new programs in automotive technology, construction management and fashion merchandising set to roll out this fall.

CCDC is starting as two-year colleges are enjoying a kind of renaissance. In the Washington region in the 2009-10 academic year, community college enrollment increased by 12,000 students, or 10 percent. Students are signing up in record numbers nationwide, though budget cuts make it impossible to accommodate them all.

Low tuition and a practical focus are big draws in the recession, said Norma Kent, a spokeswoman for the American Association of Community Colleges. CCDC is not the only two-year institution to emerge in that context; the College of Western Idaho, in Boise, opened in 2008.

"There's clearly a need," Kent said, "particularly for families who are looking for a college education at good value, and also for adult learners who may have been thrown out of work and need some skills to be competitive."

CCDC's students are most likely to choose vocational majors, including nursing and allied health, medical radiography and education. According to the latest available data, most of the students are African American, ages 18 to 29, residents of wards 4 and 7, and products of public high schools.

Facing competition

Because the D.C. Tuition Assistance Grant Program gives District residents money toward tuition at institutions including two-year colleges in the Washington area, CCDC competes for students who might instead look to Northern Virginia Community College and other nearby systems. The challenge is to effectively demonstrate the value of "staying here and going to local institutions, because it's easier and cheaper," said Ann-Marie Waterman, associate vice president for enrollment management.

Michael Moore, 45, dropped out of community colleges in New Jersey and Virginia before coming to CCDC. He chose it for its low cost and proximity to Metro and said he is generally pleased with the quality of instruction: "It's not like you're in a big auditorium setting. It's one-on-one."

After working dead-end jobs and serving 11 years in prison for drug-related charges, Moore said he realized "the only way to turn it around was a decent education." Now in his third semester, he hopes to leverage his business and computer science training into a job that combines both.

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