Community colleges experience economic cycles differently than the rest of us.
When the economy slows down, that can be good news for a community college. People who are out of work are more likely to enroll in classes to update their job skills or to train for a new career, and the college ends up with a nice bump in tuition revenue.
When the economy improves, that can be bad news for a community college. More people have jobs, thus fewer out-of-work people are taking courses to boost their skills. As a result, the college ends up with less tuition revenue.
Illinois’ economy is doing better these days, based on figures from the Illinois Department of Employment Security.
The seasonally adjusted jobless rate was 4.8 percent in July, a drop of 1 full percentage point from July 2016, the state agency reports.
In our region, July jobless numbers (not seasonally adjusted) are in the same range. From lowest to highest, Carroll County stood at 4.4 percent, followed by Lee (4.5 percent), Bureau (4.8 percent), Ogle (4.9 percent), and Whiteside (5.1 percent).
Those are respectable numbers and bode well for the local economy.
So when Sauk Valley Community College reported last week that its fall semester enrollment had fallen by 7.1 percent, we weren’t surprised.
Leaders at the college have worked hard to promote its various fields of study. They’ve added new programs in areas such as agriculture and commercial driving. They’ve upgraded the college’s nursing program. They’ve partnered with manufacturers to provide training for employees.
Still, when you’re fighting against a long-established trend, it’s pretty hard to achieve growth or even maintain the status quo, enrollment-wise.
Be that as it may, we’d like to pat college officials on the back for their tireless efforts to retain and improve enrollment numbers. Those efforts might well bear fruit in the future.
And we’d like to suggest a contrarian viewpoint about the trend that links community college enrollment with the jobless rate.
Just as conventional wisdom states the best time to look for a new job is when you have a job, perhaps the best time to train for a new job – or add to your repertoire of skills – could be while you are employed.
Taking a night course or two while employed would be a good way to gradually improve one’s skills so you’re primed and ready whenever a new job opportunity arises.
Wherever the pendulum happens to be in the economic cycle, enriching your knowledge is always a good idea, and Sauk Valley Community College is a good place to do so.