The Student Newspaper of Highline College

Computer system troubles, pandemic hurt Highline enrollment

Samuel Watson Staff Reporter Apr 08, 2021

Highline’s new ctcLink computer system and pandemic fatigue are to blame for lower enrollment in spring, college officials said this week. 

Spring Quarter began Monday, April 5. Most classes remain online, where they’ve been for the past year, following Gov. Jay Inslee’s March 2020 announcement canceling in-person classes across the state. 

While several different college officials were able to confirm that enrollment is down, exact numbers are not yet available and likely won’t be until sometime next week, said Emily Coates, who is the director of Institutional Research at Highline. She said this delay is because the data is still being extracted from ctcLink.

There are multiple reasons for the decline in enrollment, said Dusty Wilson, who is the chair of the Pure and Applied Sciences Division at Highline. 

“The primary reason is ctcLink,” Wilson said. “It was hard, it was a pain, it was hard to get people going with it. That’s one.”

Highline began using the ctcLink software system nearly two months ago, and the launch resulted in confusion for some students. Over time and with help from college officials, many students were able to figure the system out and successfully register for Spring Quarter classes, but its impact was still seen this quarter in the number of canceled classes and students enrolling.

Wilson said 17 classes were canceled this quarter in his division, with about 11 of those being due to low enrollment. This number is more than in the past, he said.

“This is definitely different,” said Wilson. “We’re talking about 11 classes canceled, we’re not talking about 50, but we would probably typically cancel three or four.”

He said even last fall and winter–with the COVID-19 pandemic still in full swing–this was not the case.

“We might still have canceled 10 in winter and fall, but we might have added 10 as well,” said Wilson. “Whereas according to my calculations, in the last two weeks we’ve gone down nine classes overall.”

Darin Smith, who is the chair of the Health, PE, and Education (HPEE) Division at Highline, said his division saw statistics that were more in line with the last two quarters.

“The HPEE division had a couple of canceled classes in the Education Department and a couple in the PE Department this quarter,” Smith said. “This is not too different than the last two quarters, mostly because our department coordinators have done an amazing job of planning ahead on the schedule and trying to keep a lean schedule with desirable classes.”

Wilson said certain classes that don’t normally have open seats do this quarter, such as some nursing classes and — more surprisingly — some introductory English classes, which he said is virtually unheard of.

“There’s space in English 101 right now,” said Wilson. “Those are usually full day one of enrollment. That says to me that new students were the ones most thrown off by the switch to ctcLink.” 

Not only is there space, but he said there was talk of having to cancel an English 101 class this quarter. Wilson said that in the six years he has been at Highline, he has never had that conversation. 

Ultimately, he said, the class was not canceled, but the fact that the possibility was even on the table speaks for itself. 

However, the switch to ctcLink is not the only reason for the decline in enrollment, he said, citing the ongoing pandemic as another factor.

“[Students are] like ‘I’m burnt out, I’ll pick this up later,’” Wilson said. “It’s a combination of that and ctcLink.” 

In his division specifically, he said there was about an 18 percent decrease in the number of students who enrolled for Spring Quarter this year compared to last year.

Sherri Chun, who is the chair of the Business Division at Highline, said she believes the decline in enrollment is for the same reasons Wilson stated.

“The two primary factors affecting enrollment this quarter are COVID uncertainty and ctcLink enrollment challenges,” Chun said. 

Wilson said he hopes that as students become more familiar with ctcLink, the pandemic becomes more manageable, and more in-person classes are available in the fall, enrollment will go up again. Chun said she feels the same way.

“Vaccination is becoming a reality for many of our students and faculty; this should help our enrollment in the fall,” she said. “Many issues that caused problems this quarter have been fixed; we look forward to a very smooth enrollment cycle for summer and fall, which will also help our enrollment numbers.”

“I do have hope that enrollment will start improving next year as we start getting past the COVID epidemic and more students return to campus,” Smith agreed. “I think we are all very excited to get back to teaching on campus and seeing our students in person.”

Highline Vice President for Academic Affairs Dr. Emily Lardner agreed.

“In terms of fall, we do hope to see an increase in enrollment,” she said. “We do predict that some students will want to attend class on campus, at least part of the time.”

Dr. Lardner said based on current student feedback, officials are working to create a schedule for the fall that includes modified in-person options. 

“A current survey of Highline students was showing that just under 40 percent of the [over] 1,000 students responding were anticipating that they would like to attend class either wholly or partly on campus in fall,” said Dr. Lardner. “We are in the process of preparing a schedule that includes on-campus options.”

She said this schedule will ideally be ready in mid-May when students will start to register for Fall Quarter, but it is subject to change.

“Depending on how registrations go over the summer, we may add additional on-campus classes if that’s what students are choosing and public health conditions allow,” said Dr. Lardner.

Wilson said aside from the decline in enrollment, he is impressed with the work that students, staff, and faculty have continued to put in amid such difficult circumstances.

“The people in Student Services and Enrollment did amazing work and they had an impossible job, so I’m really appreciative of them,” he said. “I’m also really thankful for all the students that have persevered with us through the pandemic and all of this stuff, just that they’ve trusted us with their education … I think people have just been doing an incredible job adapting to everything.”