The mind-boggling 33 percent spike in enrollment at the Community College of Denver — which places the school among the fastest growing community colleges in the U.S. — cannot solely be attributed to the lousy economy, although that is certainly a factor.
When she came on board 20 months, ago, CCD President Karén Bleeker made growing student numbers a centerpiece of her administration. It’s part of her sweeping efforts to define the school by its “aspirations vs. its limitations.”
Her efforts have clearly paid off. Enrollment increased 38.5 percent between last spring and this fall. CCD’s admissions call center answered 5,000 calls –double the number of calls it usually handles. The advising center counseled a record 3,000 students. Seventy new classes have been added to the roster, some starting before dawn and others at 9 p.m. to maximize limited space.
Bleeker, who is loath to take credit for the huge student gains, simply said, “Our little college – she’s stretching her legs.”
Bleeker said CCD added new programs and strengthened others, and fully reviewed and revamped the school’s financial aid office. One of the first things Bleeker did as president was ask how many students, based upon their income levels, could be expected to attend college and receive financial aid and how many were receiving aid?
“When we started to look at those numbers we were startled by how small they were so we began to look at how we were handling awarding of financial aid.”
She found it was taking nine months for students to find out whether they had been awarded a Pell grant.
“We were trying to turn that around so we could guarantee that as many of our students as were eligible would receive the maximum lawful amount in the shortest amount of time.”
By making tweaks in the aid office based upon a consultant’s advice, CCD got that nine-month wait down to three days – a move that affected thousands of would-be students.
The college also created a phone bank so that each student applying for a Pell could get individualized help to fill out the cumbersome application and avoid making mistakes that further delayed the process.
CCD now has 10,363 students in its financial aid population, representing 62 percent of total enrollment, up from financial aid recipients making up just 34 percent of total enrollment two years ago.
This fall, CCD dispersed $5.6 million in Pell grants in one semester. Last year’s total financial aid disbursement was $7 million. The school also encouraged students to take more courses.
“What we hope to accomplish is not just a rise in head count, we want more students to pursue college full-time.”
CCD created some new programs that are also drawing students. It has partnered with the Anschutz Medical Campus in Aurora to create an electro neuro diagnostic program, for instance. CCD is also known for its graphic design, paralegal and dental hygiene programs.
To keep pace with enrollment surges across the board, the college has hired 30 new adjunct faculty.
“I think it was a convergence of many lucky and some planned-for events.”