LUBBOCK, Texas – Community colleges across Texas are finally starting to see a jump in enrollment after suffering steep declines during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I believe, honestly, from a higher education perspective, everything is back on its feet,” said Stan DeMerritt, vice president for student affairs at South Plains College (SPC).
Preliminary fall 2023 data from the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board revealed a 4.25% increase in community college students since 2021.
DeMerritt said not every school’s path to recovery has looked the same.
“Coming into COVID-19 in the fall of 2020, we saw a 3% decrease,” DeMerritt said. “However, because of how South Plains College and West Texas work, we saw less of a decline than the rest of the state in the larger metro areas.”
According to SPC’s headcount, there were 8,870 students enrolled for the fall 2023 semester, which is almost even with its 2020 numbers, and up 3.5% compared to a year ago.
“West Texas, as we all hear from even the Lubbock Economic Development Alliance and other groups, we rebound really quick, or we’re impacted later,” DeMerritt said. “I believe South Plains College had both of those. We weren’t hit real fast, but we rebounded quicker.”
DeMerritt said the passing of Texas House Bill 8 this past legislative session has helped out substantially. The bill, which took effect in September, increased state funding for community colleges based on performance.
SPC is guaranteed $19,272,422 for the 2024 fiscal year.
“South Plains College definitely became a solid winner on that funding model,” DeMerritt said.
One part of the new law allows high school students from low-income families to enroll in dual credit courses for free. SPC’s current dual credit headcount is 2,731, an increase of 600 from fall 2022.
“We’re having to rethink how we do enrollment,” DeMerritt said. “Either you adapt, or you go away. We’re staying. We’re not going anywhere.”
To learn more about South Plains College, visit the school’s website.