MALTA – Hope Fulton said she wants to be a Harley-Davidson mechanic, inspired by early childhood tinkering sessions in the garage with her late father, Walter Fulton, who died when she was 10.
“I’ve always been kind of a hands-on person, so this fits,” Fulton said, as she grasped the rusted caliper on a front brake set in her automotive brakes shop class Friday. “I was telling my mom because she was like, ‘Why do you want to do this?’ One of my happiest memories is working on Dad’s truck with him, and she’s like, ‘He broke that truck fixing it, he had no idea what he was doing.’ ”
Fulton’s one of the 3,060 students enrolled at Kishwaukee College in Malta, a 7.5% drop from 2018 and 40% decline since 2010, which Kayte Hamel, executive director of college relations and the Kishwaukee College Foundation, said is because fewer Chicago-area students attend the DeKalb County school. Not to be deterred, Fulton, 21, of Sycamore, is in her first year in Kishwaukee’s automotive program and transferred after completing her general education requirements at College of DuPage.
A 10-day fall enrollment report released by Kishwaukee College shows 300 fewer students than this time in 2018, which also equates to 27,236 credit hours as opposed to the 30,134 in fall 2018. Online credit hours accounted for 6,105 of the 2019 fall enrollment number.
New fall enrollment for 2019 sits at 1,485, a 5.5% drop from 2018, and the large majority of Kishwaukee students fall in the 18- to 24-year-old age bracket, which also saw a 7% dip from 2018.
“As we analyze the data to better understand our enrollment declines, we have determined that eight years ago approximately 44% of first-time full-time students enrolled at Kish graduated from a Chicago-area high school,” Hamel said. “That number this fall is approximately 8%.”
She said that although the college has temporarily suspended several programs such as emergency medical services or moved the esthetics program to every other year, there are other areas that are expanding.
“The college is focused on developing program offerings to meet local employer and industry demand,” Hamel said. “This year we have developed new programs in culinary and hospitality, medical assistant and agribusiness. These programs were developed from local industry bringing a need to our attention and the college responding.”
Enrollment is down across the state and country, with comparable numbers at other area community and trade colleges. The 10-day fall enrollment numbers from Illinois Valley Community College in Oglesby show a 4% decline from 2018, with the 2019 total sitting at 2,841 students. The total credit hours at the 10-day mark equal 25,338, almost 2% down from 2018.
The numbers in neighboring McHenry County College tell a different story, however. The college’s 10-day fall enrollment shows a 6% increase in enrollment from 2018, with 7,475 students in 2019. Total credit hours, 58,401, are 3% higher than the previous year.
Christina Haggerty, vice president of marketing, communications and development at McHenry, credits special recruiting efforts to grow the college’s Latino population (correlating with McHenry County’s growth), increasing high school dual-credit programs and modifying new-student orientation experiences.
“We are always continuing to work toward improving processes for our students,” Haggerty said of what she said was a consistent three-year enrollment growth.
Automotive Instructor Shawn Long, 39, said he’s noticed a trend in his 15 years teaching at Kishwaukee.
“Every year is different for the most part,” Long said. “Typically speaking just in our field, what I’ve seen is when the economy is not that good, we’re up in students because jobs are harder to find so people go back to school.”
Kish’s plan for the future
Long’s eight-week automotive course is more intensive than the typical 16-week course, but it gives students three days of the week to get their hands dirty. Long caps the shop class at 12 students a session, to give each person plenty of time to get field experience before obtaining their technician certifications, which often lead to careers at dealerships or mechanic shops.
Hamel said the college is taking extra efforts to market shop classes such as Fulton’s as a means to a successful career, especially for people traditionally underrepresented in the field, such as women and minorities.
The college also is amping up partnerships with neighboring institutions for students who want to complete general education courses or other certificates for dual-credit in high school and then move into a Kishwaukee program or a four-year degree, she said.
“It’s not new, but in the current higher-education landscape, they’re something we really are focusing on,” Hamel said. “We’ve increased those partnerships quite a bit in the last few years.”