Enrollment at Wake Tech reached a record high Monday, as 22,000 students shuffled back onto the college’s five campuses – or logged onto its website – for the first day of classes.
That’s more than 500 more students than enrolled the first day last fall. Thirty percent of Wake County school system graduates will be attending Wake Tech this year, up .7 percent from last year.
As the largest community college in North Carolina, Wake Tech is adjusting to increasing demands. An 87,000-square-foot building on the Northern Wake Campus is scheduled to be completed by 2015 and include classrooms, a library, a tutoring center and disability support services.
Bryan Ryan, senior vice president of curriculum education services, believes the growth can be attributed to many factors, including the strength of the college’s technical programs.
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“One of the reasons that those programs continue to be interesting to our students and high school graduates is that we haven’t let those programs become stale,” Ryan said. “We continue with new programs that are of interest and of need in our workplace.”
One such program that has recently expanded is welding technology. Wake Tech now offers an associate’s degree on top of the previous diploma or certificate in response to increasing enrollment and industrial demand.
“Look at all the construction in downtown Raleigh,” said Russell Wahrman, administrative department head of applied technology, who receives calls from power plants and unions looking for welders.
The college also has the country’s first two-year program in business analytics, a field that uses data to make smart business decisions.
Ryan noted that while half of students are interested in the technical programs, many of the others are interested in transferring to a four-year college, an option that has become increasingly viable in recent years.
“The word has gotten out that our transfer students, once they transfer to the UNC institutions, perform as well or better than the native juniors,” Ryan said, referring to students who started out as a freshman at a university.
Further, Wake Tech surpasses all other North Carolina colleges and universities in the number of online students. As of last year, more than 3,300 students were in online programs, a number that has doubled in five years.
“Because of the conveniences of time and travel, more and more students are taking online classes together with their seated classes, so that’s accounted, I think, for some of the growth in students,” Ryan said.
Another contributor to enrollment growth is Wake Tech’s participation in an initiative led by Bill and Melinda Gates called Completion By Design, which rewards community colleges for developing strategies that help students be more successful.
“The goal is to double the number of students who earn credentials with market value by 2025,” Ryan said.
Wake Tech is one of five community colleges in North Carolina involved. Together, they have come up with a universal general education transfer component, aimed at getting students 30 hours of credit that will be transferrable to all UNC universities.
While collaboration is key, the college is also trying to stay ahead by pushing the use of 3D printers. After it buys the printers with a grant, the school intends to build a curriculum to benefit programs in the math and science fields.
“We’re going to try to lead the way,” Wahrman said. “Even though we’re new to this, it’s pretty exciting.”