HOUSTON - While many colleges face dropping enrollment this year, a local junior college has had a spike. Lee College in Baytown says it's due to innovating the way they serve students.
The National Student Clearinghouse Research Center says community colleges across the country had a 7.5% drop in enrollment this fall. But Lee College says it had a 41% increase in summer enrollment and a 1% increase this fall.
"I'd be waking up and my tonsils would be really swollen," said Lee College student Ervin Fuller.
When Ervin Fuller contracted COVID-19 this summer and couldn't work, Lee College gave him CARES Act funds to help him make ends meet.
"That really helped me get through the summer," said Fuller.
And when his financial aid didn't come through this fall, he says a school counselor and debate coach helped him get a scholarship and get enrolled.
"It was really stressful. But I don't know how I would have made it through without Tyrone and Joe," said Fuller.
It's that personal attention and using CARES Act funding to provide free summer tuition, that helped Lee College hit a record 41% increase in enrollment this summer.
"If you were a full-time student, it's in excess of $1,000 per class," Lee College President Dr. Lynda Villanueva explained.
Lee also used $1.5 million in CARES Act money to help students with food, transportation, rent, and buying hundreds of laptops to enable them to take classes online.
"That is making all the difference between a student who is not able to go to school and not have to choose between whether they're going to pay their rent or their tuition bill," said Villanueva.
Students can choose to take classes online, in-person, or both, and a new hotline answers their questions about navigating virtual classes. This fall, classes also have staggered start dates.
"We were creating flexible entry classes. So we had classes that were 13 weeks, that were eight weeks, that were five weeks, then the traditional 16 weeks," said Villanueva.
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And she says the faculty are jumping in to help when they see a student struggling, just as they did for Fuller.
"We can reach out to that student and say, hey, ‘we noticed that you weren't able to log into your classes, is there anything we can do to support you?" said Villanueva.
"A lot of times when you stop schooling, you kind of never go back. And I don't want that to happen to me. Now I can see myself still going. I plan on going to grad school. I want to be a veterinarian," said Fuller.
Lee College offers more than 100 associate degree and certificate programs.