Even as fall registration begins, enrollment maintains its dramatic decline


Gabriela Krieger, Editor

Registration for the fall semester has begun, and classes are beginning to fill; but even as in-person class capacity increases, enrollment seems to have taken a dramatic decline. According to the National Student Clearinghouse, an agency that monitors enrollment, there was a 3.5% decrease in students attending college nationwide in 2021, with community colleges such as Oakton seeing the most dramatic decrease at 9.5%.  

Several factors have contributed to the nationwide trend of decreasing community college enrollments. Clearinghouse claims that the COVID-19 pandemic has led to a national drop in college enrollment – primarily community colleges such as Oakton. It is believed that many students paused their education due to pandemic-related challenges in their personal lives, such as caring for children and sick family members, employment commitments, and more. 

Another matter is the impracticality of Oakton’s website. It is difficult to navigate and it is often challenging to figure out how to access basic necessities, such as class lists or registration, which may be supremely discouraging to an overwhelmed incoming freshman. 

“Coming from someone who was learning online full-time, being virtual and having to learn and navigate everything on your own can be very challenging,” said Oakton student Caitlin Farell.

Oakton’s redesigned institutional website (www.oakton.edu) is scheduled to launch publicly on June 1. The new site will feature streamlined, accessible navigation that will provide an improved user experience on multiple devices (mobile, desktop). 

Even as pandemic-related impacts and technological impracticalities are brought to light, staff and students are prompted to wonder: what is Oakton doing in response to this disconcerting trend? 

“(Oakton Community College) has implemented a comprehensive marketing and communication strategy to attract and retain students and maintain a strong reputation in the community,” said Steve Butera, Sr. Manager of Media Relations and Communications at Oakton. 

In addition to having an active presence on multiple social media platforms and paid advertisements designed to target potential future Oakton students, the marketing plan includes print postcards, bus tails/bus shelter advertisements in strategic locations throughout the district. There is even a billboard in Evanston containing brand awareness messages. 

Perhaps most importantly, there is also the matter of steering students back towards the world of education. 

Oakton is on a mission to support students by introducing new academic programs that prepare them for in-demand jobs in local areas, as well as offering classes at flexible times and in formats that best suit their learning style. This includes in-person, hybrid, or entirely online classes at both the Des Plaines and Skokie campuses. 

As for students and families impacted by the pandemic, Oakton has provided loan and federal stimulus funds to remove barriers preventing them from continuing their education. 

“Oakton is proud of its 50+ year history of providing high-quality educational opportunities to students and serving as a community resource,” affirmed Butera. “We’re confident many students who paused their education will soon look to re-enter their path, and Oakton is prepared to support them in reaching their goals.”