FARMINGTON — For the third consecutive year, San Juan College students are taking fewer credit hours in the spring semester, and school officials are trying to reverse that trend.

The dip in enrollment numbers coincides with a slight economic recovery in the region, said Jon Betz, the college's senior director of enrollment management.

"Our economy is improving in the Four Corners, and people are going back to work," Betz said. "That's affecting our enrollment."

Enrollment for the current spring semester dropped 1.6 percent from the same period last year, and student credit hours this semester declined 3.9 percent over the spring 2013 semester, Betz said.

Angelleah Begay-Waybenais and Lyle Ironcloud take a break on Tuesday at the Student Center at San Juan College in Farmington.
Angelleah Begay-Waybenais and Lyle Ironcloud take a break on Tuesday at the Student Center at San Juan College in Farmington. (Jon Austria/ The Daily Times)

This spring semester, 8,843 students are enrolled at the college, which is down 144 students from last year's 8,699 students.

Student credit hours dropped to 64,742 this spring semester. That's down nearly 4 percent from the credit hours in the same period last year. From spring 2012 to spring 2013, credit hours decreased less than 1 percent, dropping from 67,733 in spring 2012 to 67,354 the following spring.

While the figures indicate the start of an economic recovery, college officials are trying to reverse the decline in part because state funding for the college is based on completed credit hours.

Still, San Juan College's slowing enrollment numbers fall in line with national trends.

Nationwide, community colleges saw a slow increase in student enrollment until around 2008-2009, when the recession prompted a spike in enrollment, said Kent Phillippe, associate vice president for research and student success for the American Association of Community Colleges.

As the country's economy has started to rebound, community college enrollment rates have started to decrease, Phillippe said. And, Phillippe said, studies have also shown a decline in high school graduates, which leads to lower student enrollment at community colleges.

A study by the Western Interstate Commission on Higher Education released in January 2013 found that high school graduation numbers likely peaked in the 2010-2011 school year and will reach a low point in the current 2013-2014 school year.

"Workforce demands drive enrollments as much as students leaving high school," Phillippe said.

Jenniffer Valora, director of San Juan College's Student Achievement Center, said the college has tried to increase student retention over the last year by expanding its efforts to help students with personal and academic issues.

Recently, the college renamed its Office of Retention the Student Achievement Center, and, to increase awareness of the services it offers, the center relocated its office closer to the student lounge in the Student Center.

A redesigned student orientation program is housed in the center, and achievement and technology coaches in the office help students with issues like child care, housing, study skills, tutoring and technology knowledge.

Valora said preliminary data shows students who receive coaching through the program see their GPA increase, on average, one grade point. But, she said, more research in the next three years will determine the effectiveness of the program.

"We can't meet them today and fix everything in a hour and have a 3.0 the next day," Valora said. "You have to get them to a point where they can concentrate on themselves and be motivated enough to pass class and all that stuff.

Joshua Kellogg covers education for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4627 and jkellogg@daily-times.com. Follow him @jkelloggdt on Twitter.