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Community Colleges Enrollment Drops, Pell Grants Increase

After four years of continuous growth at community colleges, new numbers out this week show enrollment has dropped slightly this fall.

The American Association of Community Colleges and the National Student Clearinghouse report an enrollment decrease of 1 percent from fall 2010 to this fall. Still, overall there are 21.8 percent more students at community colleges today than in fall 2007.

Looking at reasons for this year's drop, the report notes that while there were fewer full-time students, there was a slight increase in those attending part time. The authors did not indicate the change was linked to an improved economic picture.

On the Pell Grant front, awards are growing. The number of community college students that received money from the federal student-aid grant program was up 17 percent in the first quarter of 2011 compared with the year before. This is another indication of the continued need for support to pay for school and the likelihood that the drop in enrollment is not due to students being better off financially.

Historically, community college students are more likely to qualify for Pell Grants than students in other sectors of higher education. And that trend is becoming more prevalent. In 2011, the community college share of the Pell Grant program rose to 34 percent, from 31 percent last year, the AACC report shows.

Changes in Pell Grant eligibility (see Politics K-12 blog) have been proposed in Congress, including a requirement that students would have to have a GED or a high school diploma to get a grant and would be eligible for a grant for 12 semesters, rather than 18 semesters.

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