SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (WCIA) – Enrollment across Illinois community colleges is up 5.7% compared to last fall, based on a report the Illinois Community College Board released this week. 

The organization said this year’s growth marks the second largest growth of fall-to-fall enrollment in thirty years.

“Typically, enrollment increases will follow economic downturns. So you have a really unique situation here that actually the economy is doing really well,” Brian Durham, the Executive Director of the Illinois Community College Board, said.

Durham said enrollment numbers across community colleges in Illinois have mostly recovered since the COVID-19 pandemic. In 2020, fall enrollment at community colleges in Illinois significantly dropped 13.8% compared to the fall of 2019.

“You saw some areas where the drop was really significant,” Durham said. “Obviously, it’s difficult to become a welder without actually doing welding, and that’s a face-to-face, hands-on occupation. During the pandemic, folks in those kinds of programs really weren’t able to enroll or do that work, and that’s largely recovered.”

Durham said factors like the economy play a role in drawing more students.

“There are a lot of jobs, and people are looking for opportunities to quickly upskill and move up or move into different occupations. And community colleges can do short-term credentials, certificates,” Durham said.

Thirty-six colleges saw enrollment go up from fall of last year, including Richland Community College in Decatur. The college’s fall enrollment grew 6.7% from last fall.

“Through a number of different initiatives, such as a pre-apprenticeship program through Illinois Works, a new early childhood access consortium scholarship program, an earn-while-you-learn EMT program and EnRich Healthcare, we have been able to grow our student base by bringing more students to our campus,” Andy Hynds, Executive Dean of Academics at Richland, said.

This year’s budget includes an additional $100 million for MAP grants, which are meant to help lower income students afford the cost of college. Durham said investments like this from the state also play a major role in improving enrollment.

“By providing more comprehensive financial aid, you’re enabling more students — more students that are lower income students, students that have more struggles and being able to pay, families that have those struggles, have better opportunities to go to college and to stay in,” Durham said.

Other schools across Central Illinois also saw their enrollment numbers increase. Lincoln Land Community College in Springfield saw a 17.9% increase in fall enrollment. Danville Area Community College experienced a 9.8% growth. In Champaign, Parkland College’s numbers are up 5.8%.

Despite dozens of schools seeing gains in their enrollment numbers, twelve colleges in Illinois saw a decrease including Lake Land Community College in Mattoon, which saw a 1.1% drop in their fall enrollment this year.