4Cs is a bargain, yet enrollment falls

Get a 4Cs associate degree in business for a little over $10,000 vs. up to $37,620 for a similar degree at popular online universities
4Cs is facing aggressive competition in an increasingly high stakes game between community colleges.

Part 2 of a series:

Excellent value but other community colleges do better with online learning

Cape Cod Community College is a bargain. A full-time student can get an associate degree in business for a little over $10,000 at 4Cs versus $24,000 to $37,620 for a similar degree at popular online universities.

Yet, despite its affordability, the Cape’s only community college suffers declining enrollment.

According to data obtained from the National Center for Education Statistics, 4Cs' enrollment fell from a “full-time equivalent” (FTE) of 2,831 in 2009-10 to 2,539 in 2011-12 – a drop of a bit more than 10% in two academic years.

According to 4Cs President John Cox, the school has lost 15% of its enrollment since 2009. Cape Cod’s K-12 student population has declined over 20% in the past decade.

School Competition Goes to College

Readers of CapeCodToday.com are all too familiar with the school competition that has played out across Barnstable County in the past few years. Challenged by school choice, charter choice and private schools, the Cape’s K-12 districts fight for every student. Indeed, the past three years has revealed clear winners and losers in the school competition game.

Now the game’s afoot with higher education. Cape Cod Community College is affected by the same 20% drop in the school-aged population that has harmed our K-12 districts. However, 4Cs also competes in the workforce training and lifelong learning markets. See the chart at the bottom.

The problem is that 4Cs is facing aggressive competition in an increasingly high stakes game between community colleges, traditional universities and the now-ubiquitous online universities.

Online Can Cost a Fortune

CapeCodToday.com researched online higher education providers that offer an associate degree in business in a 100% online environment. Four of the most popular online universities are Southern New Hampshire University, University of Phoenix, Penn State’s “Worldcampus” and Notre Dame College.

As observed on the chart, the cost of a two-year degree from the four “national” online providers runs anywhere from $24,000 for Notre Dame’s 64-credit associate in business to $37,620 for Southern New Hampshire’s associate in business.

4Cs offers a similar degree for only $10,180 for a full-time student who spends four semesters on campus. While 4Cs' price doesn’t include transportation costs, it’s doubtful that gasoline would increase a student’s costs anywhere close to the $20k mark.

4Cs is a Weak Online Competitor

Among Massachusetts’ fifteen community colleges, 4Cs had the sharpest drop in enrollment – 10.31% between 2009-10 and 2011-12. The next highest enrollment drop was at Holyoke Community College, which lost 6.07% of its students. See the chart below.

Three community colleges that grew during the same period are Bunker Hill (16.94% growth), Bristol (3.88%) and Quinsigamond (4.03%). All three of these campuses offer associate degree and certificate programs that can be completed 90% to 100% online.

It’s no surprise those campuses’ enrollment has grown – an online degree at community college prices is an even better bargain than the traditional community college experience.

4Cs advertises no on-line degree programs or certificates. The college’s summer 2014 online course list shows 35 classes that students can take online. These fall mainly in the “general ed” classification with a few 200 level courses in the behavioral sciences or business areas.

Quinsigamond, on the other hand, offers over 100 online courses and four 100% online degree or certificate programs. Bunker Hill Community College has eight degrees and eight certificates available as online programs.

Theoretically, a student from Wellfleet could attend Bristol or Bunker Hill’s online degree program and pay less than physically attending 4Cs, when one factors in the cost of travel to the Barnstable campus.

4Cs as an online powerhouse would extend the bargain of a 4Cs' education to folks who might otherwise seek online degrees at another community college or one of the national online universities.

As we speak to folks concerned about 4Cs one gets a perception that the school suffers from an “out-of-date” image, most particular in its online learning programs.

Evolve or Die?

It is unthinkable to contemplate Cape Cod without Cape Cod Community College.

However, if 4Cs does not keep itself relevant by embracing modern technology and modern program offerings, we could eventually find ourselves without a two-year college based on the Cape. To be sure, the 4Cs rather dated facility could make a nice satellite campus for UMass Dartmouth or some other university but such an end would do great harm to affordable, workforce-oriented higher education on Cape Cod.

As this series continues we will be inviting members of the 4Cs community to share their feelings on how the school can better function in the fast-changing market of school competition on Cape Cod.

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