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Edmonds CC takes a strategic look at enrollment, halts decline


For the past five years, full-time enrollment at public community colleges has been on the decline, both nationally and locally. However, a new strategic enrollment plan being implemented by Edmonds Community College has its campus community  rallying behind efforts to increase enrollment. 

An April 2016 College Board report on trends among the nation’s 982 public community colleges found that enrollment was on the rise, nationally, from 2000-2010, but numbers have continued to dwindle since. Washington state’s 34 community and technical colleges have experienced the same downward trend.

Danielle Carnes, SEM executive director

Enrollment at Edmonds CC has been no exception, until fall quarter of this year. Enrollment numbers are beginning to level out, and the college has halted its five-year dip with a total of 10,189 full-time equivalent students enrolled as of Sept. 30. 

“After a five-year decline, this is a welcome ray of sunshine,” said Danielle Carnes, Edmonds CC’s executive director of Strategic Enrollment Management (SEM). 

Carnes was hired in November 2015 as the college’s first SEM director. The SEM department is nestled under the college’s office of College Relations and Advancement and works closely with the Offices of Student Services and Instruction.

College Relations Vice President Tonya Drake said Edmonds CC decided to be proactive in addressing its declining enrollments by hiring Carnes and establishing the SEM department.

“Having a strong leader with vision and dedicated time to work across departments will help us level our enrollments in the years to come,” Drake said. “This gives Edmonds CC an advantage to be strategic about our enrollments, including recruitment, persistence, and completion.”

By having dedicated leadership, Drake said Edmonds CC has been able to quickly put structures and processes in place to help boost enrollment.

Carnes said SEM takes a strategic, data-informed look at all the factors that drive enrollment – the economy, national and regional trends, program mix, community image and reputation, course and section management, retention initiatives, recruiting, enrollment process, data literacy, and campus culture. 

“All of these factors help the college make good decisions to position itself best for optimal enrollment for incoming college students, as well as tomorrow’s generation of students,” Carnes said. 

Enrollment is a complex mix of the above factors, and the economy plays a significant role. 

“Enrollments tend to be countercyclical to the economy,” said Laura McDowell, spokesperson for the Washington State Board of Community and Technical Colleges. 

McDowell said when unemployment rates rise, enrollment goes up as workers go back to school to retrain or gain new skills for employment. 

Carnes agrees. “Then, when the economy recovers and is doing really well, people go back to work, which is where we want them, which is where they should be,” she said, “but that means enrollments will take a dip, so we are trying to figure out how to weather the natural ups and downs.” 

Since fall 2015, Carnes and her team have worked to develop a SEM plan and vision for the next four years. The plan was published in June on the college’s website and can be viewed at

The plan calls for three primary actions: an increase in communications to prospective and current students; strengthening of program pathways, next steps, and how to get there; and an increase in recruitment presence in the community.

Edmonds CC has already taken steps toward these goals by implementing a customer relationship management database to tailor communications to specific student needs, launching a Spanish-language website for prospective Latino students, and expanding its Admissions and Outreach team’s presence in the community and local high schools with the hiring of 2.5 permanent, professional admissions counselors. 

Carnes said the initial changes and those to come should bring about an increase in enrollment as early as next year, but cautions that it is a long-range plan.

“I expect to see some gains in the next year with the changes that we’re making,” she said, “but it also takes time. We’re going to improve the college’s infrastructure and remove enrollment barriers, so we can continue to be a first choice college for students.”

Carnes said Edmonds CC is “an amazing college and a great value for students, and that will continue to positively impact enrollment.” 

To find out more about Edmonds CC, visit Registration for winter quarter begins on Nov. 9. Classes begin on Jan. 3.

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Laura Daniali