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Improving Economy Means Lower Community College Enrollment

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The improving employment picture in the Northwest isn't good news if you teach at a community college. Enrollment is dropping as more people head back to work. And that means there are fewer classes to teach.

Frank Goulard has taught math at Portland Community College for more than 30 years, so he knew what would happen when the economy started to tank five years ago.

"Community colleges are the economic first responder in our country,” Goulard said.

Indeed, enrollment shot up at two-year colleges in Oregon and Washington. But in a sense, the schools were a victim of their own success.

Students gained skills that helped them claim the new jobs that have been created since then. And so numbers dropped at places like Portland Community College. Enrollment there is about 7 percent lower this fall compared to two years ago.

Goulard says full-time faculty like himself aren't affected. It's the part-time teachers that feel the pinch.

"They are the ones who have fewer classes assigned to them. And that impacts them on a personal level and on a financial level,” he said.

This fall, other community colleges across the Northwest have experienced similar drops in enrollment.

Chris Lehman graduated from Temple University with a journalism degree in 1997. He landed his first job less than a month later, producing arts stories for Red River Public Radio in Shreveport, Louisiana. Three years later he headed north to DeKalb, Illinois, where he worked as a reporter and announcer for NPR–affiliate WNIJ–FM. In 2006 he headed west to become the Salem Correspondent for the Northwest News Network.