Pearl River hits historic enrollment while outpacing the state average
Published 9:20 am Wednesday, September 14, 2022
By Laura O’Neill
POPLARVILLE, Miss. — Pearl River Community College is continuing to set records with enrollment at an all-time high at a time when many higher education institutions continue to lose students. The school has also maintained its position as the 4th largest community college in Mississippi for the third consecutive semester.
The 10th Day Report arrived with news of the record-setting enrollment of 5,501 students for the fall semester. There has been a 15% growth in enrollment from 2016 to 2022 while the state average saw a drop of 14.5% and the national average headcount dropped by 16.4%.
The continued growth at The River can be tied to the college administration’s goal of making higher education affordable, accessible, and efficient.
“We are honored that so many students continue to choose Pearl River Community College to begin their educational journey,” said PRCC President Dr. Adam Breerwood. “We’ve put a lot of strategies in place that would hopefully not only allow students to begin at Pearl River but ultimately stay on track to completion.”
Specific components for the college’s success include a focus on workforce development and Career Technical Education, retaining the best faculty and staff possible, maintaining the same base tuition rate since 2017, continued growth in online course offerings, and increased scholarships.
MAKING COLLEGE AFFORDABLE
Dr. Breerwood, the administration, and the Board of Trustees have worked together to ensure education at Pearl River Community College is accessible and affordable. Embracing efficiency to manage costs has allowed for a frozen base tuition rate for the past six years while continuing to add services and opportunities for students. At the state level, tuition has increased by an average of 14.4% and 9.1% at the national level.
Alongside the tuition freeze, the college offers scholarships for students in Academic, Allied Health, and Career Technical Education pathways to assist them with their educational goals.
For the 2021-22 school year, PRCC provided more than $4.5 million in institutional scholarships, including both academic and service scholarships. The college expects to be providing an equal number of scholarships for the 2022-2023 school year. The number of scholarships awarded has increased by 31% since 2016.
Academic scholarships are based on either the student’s ACT score or successful completion of a CTE program at the high school level with at least a 3.0 GPA. The last four years have seen over 50% growth in the number of CTE scholarships awarded.
Students are also eligible for a variety of service scholarships for students involved in athletic and service endeavors while in college. Service scholarships can be stacked with academic or CTE scholarships. Service endeavors include activities such as The Spirit of the River Band, PRCC Cheer, PRCC Singers, River Navigators, and Resident Assistants.
“Our goal is to not only make a college education accessible but also affordable,”
said Vice President for Enrollment Management and Business Services Candace Harper. “We have continuously cut costs internally to be able to freeze tuition even during years with high inflation.
“By becoming more efficient in our process, we have saved money we can carry over to our students, something many institutions have not been able to do successfully.”
The PRCC Development Foundation has hundreds of scholarships students can qualify for through a simple application. These scholarships total over a million dollars each year and are made possible through the generosity of donors.
Another scholarship opportunity exists for residents of Forrest and Hancock counties. The County Tuition Assistance Program (CTAP) closes the gap between aid received from grants and scholarships and the cost of base tuition. Students are required to complete a FASFA form, the Foundation Scholarship application, and file for state financial aid as well as be a full-time student at PRCC. More information is found at prcc.edu/financial-aid/ctap.
ACCESSIBILITY TO EDUCATION
Providing a variety of courses for students with high-caliber instructors is at the core of PRCC’s approach to academics. Whether seeking an associate degree before matriculating into a four-year school or in Career Technical Education looking to directly enter the workforce, PRCC is constantly aiming to provide the best possible classroom experience.
PRCC’s eLearning Campus has seen exponential growth with plans to continue growing to meet the needs of non-traditional students. Students who may have found attending class at a fixed time in a set location doesn’t work for them can now fit learning into their individual schedules. Online enrollment has grown by over 60% in headcount and almost 70% in credit hours during the last eight years. Approximately 70% of students have at least one online class.
Students pursuing certificates or degrees in all Business Pathway Career Technical Programs (Accounting Technology, Business & Marketing Management Technology, Business Management Technology, and Medical Billing & Coding) can do so completely online.
PREPARING STUDENTS FOR THE FUTURE
The goal of the college is to prepare each student for the best possible life ahead, one where they are self-sufficient and upstanding members of their communities. This includes students in short-term Workforce Training programs, terminal certificate of degree programs under the Career-Technical Education umbrella, or Associates of Arts degree programs.
For both Career-Technical Education and Workforce Development, PRCC helps students acquire the skills they need to secure positions that launch careers. Leadership in these areas actively work with local businesses and industries to create partnerships and unique opportunities for students. They also evaluate ways to meet local needs including the addition of new programs.
Enrollment in Career-Technical Education and Workforce Development programs has risen by 42% since 2016 compared to a 1% loss seen at the state level. PRCC offers more than 40 different CTE pathways across its locations. The current list of options can be found at prcc.edu/academics/career-technical-education/ with links to each individual program’s information page.
“Career & Technical Education at PRCC is off to a great start this year.” Dean of Career & Technical Education for Poplarville and Hancock Campuses Dr. Amy Townsend and Dean of Career and Technical Instruction for Forrest County Campus Dr. David Collum said, “To meet the call of our local industries, new programs have been added including Cyber Security. To assist with new programs and expansions, PRCC has welcomed several new instructors that bring current industry experience, ensuring our students are prepared for today’s workforce.
“Mississippi’s governmental and economic leaders are focused on increasing the state’s workforce to meet growing industry demands. A major part of this focus is on CTE and Workforce related programs. More and more industry partners are reaching out to offer internship opportunities to our students as they seek to fill workforce needs in their respective areas.”
The year 2022 has seen continued growth in Allied Health programs. A grant from Accelerate MS for Healthcare Training is supporting the new Diagnostic Medical Sonography program at the Forrest County Campus, expansion of the ADN nursing program to nights on the Poplarville campus, and establishing an ADN program at the Forrest County Campus.
Students in these and other programs already on the Forrest County Campus are highly sought after for employment upon graduation. Most of them have their job lined up before receiving their diploma as the healthcare shortage nationwide has continued to grow.
“Since 2017, we have expanded our healthcare programs by 25% which equates to an increase of about 170 students,” said Dr. Jana Causey, Vice President for Forrest County Campus, Allied Health, and Nursing Programs. “We are committed to providing a premier healthcare workforce to our district and believe this initiative will promote a better quality of life to those we serve.”
PRCC graduates are well prepared upon transfer to a four-year college or university. The number of Pearl River students who transferred and graduated from Mississippi universities has increased by 32% since 2017. The state average is a 3.2% increase.
The academic outcome is also seen in improved grade point averages. In 2017, the average GPA upon graduation with a bachelor’s degree was 3.03. As of this year, it is now 3.29.
CREATING AN ENVIRONMENT STUDENTS DESIRE
Since 2016, PRCC has invested $41 Million in projects that directly impact students. Included in these projects are two new dormitories offering a suite-like experience, a complete rebuilding of Seal Hall where humanities classes are held, and the addition of the James Barnes STEM center housing science classes and lab rooms.
In the future, students in Hancock County will attend classes at the new 53,000-square-foot, state-of-the-art Aerospace & Aviation Academy. The foundation for the hangar was recently laid with construction of the Academy expected to start soon after.
At Pearl River, the Wildcats have worked hard to cultivate a positive and uplifting environment that empowers students to take control of their futures while equipping them with the necessary tools to achieve their goals. Past and current students consistently praise the ‘family-like’ feeling they get on campus, something reflected in last year’s student survey with 95% overall satisfaction and 97% saying they would recommend PRCC to others.
“I love that PRCC is so helpful,” said Pearl River freshman, Alecia Forrest. “I’m always alerted about upcoming activities, deadlines, and everything that I need to know. Everything is so organized and I always feel so welcome!”
RETAINING THE BEST FACULTY & STAFF
The positive environment extends to the faculty and staff of PRCC. Employee satisfaction is at 99% as of Spring 2022.
The Board of Trustees approved a 5% increase in salary for faculty and staff of the college, effective July 1. This marked the fourth year of pay raises that recognize the hard work of the faculty and staff, bringing the total increase to 19% since 2017. The state average for a pay increase in the same period was 5%.
Employees are extremely grateful for their increase and acknowledgment of their hard work.
All of these components work together to make Pearl River a place that not only welcomes all to start on a new journey but gives them the necessary tools to be successful along the way.