College of Lake County officials say total fall enrollment is projected to match last year's, which is an improvement from early registration numbers.
Jerry Weber, president of the Grayslake-based CLC system, said enrollment and the accompanying tuition revenue matter more than ever because state funding is uncertain. Fall semester classes begin Monday at CLC's flagship Grayslake campus, along with branches in Waukegan and Vernon Hills.
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"As the state gives us less, the tuition becomes a greater share of our resources, and so it's more important than ever," Weber said Friday. "We budget conservatively. We budget as if we're going to have a downturn, just in case, because we have to be cautious. So if we don't have that downturn, that's good."
Weber added that more money could become available for other needs, such as building repairs or additional instructors, if enough tuition revenue is generated. He said one full-time CLC student typically represents more than $3,000 in tuition for a semester.
CLC's executive vice president of marketing and public relations, Evelyn Schiele, said total fall enrollment had been running about 8 percent behind last year's pace on July 1. Officials began tracking the numbers when the first week for CLC's fall semester open registration period ended April 30.
In part because many students don't register until July or August, Schiele said, CLC's numbers accelerated and now the school projects a fall enrollment similar to the 2011-12 academic year. As of Friday, CLC's total head count is almost 1 percent ahead of the roughly 16,600 the school reported on the first day of fall semester in 2011.
Weber said it's "a good sign" that fall enrollment should remain about even. He said CLC's student registration process for the fall semester may be somewhat of an economic barometer.
"It can mean, for instance, that we're not quite out of this recession and people are holding their money until the very end and they're registering later than they used to register," Weber said. "Otherwise, we'd still be down 8 percent right now. It just means the students are still coming, they're kind of just holding off a little bit. I assume that's what it means."
CLC enrollment climbed by more than 1,700 students from 2008 to 2010.
Meanwhile, CLC's freshman seminar at the Grayslake campus drew 1,100 participants on Aug. 10, above the 800 newcomers who attended last year. CLC debuted a retooled seminar in 2011 that featured motivational speaker Duane Brown.
Brown returned to this year's seminar with a message on how students should get involved in campus clubs, continue learning and not settle for a routine job, but instead tap into their true passion. Humorous YouTube videos and hip-hop music were incorporated into the seminar.
On the academic front, the fall semester will feature the launch of CLC's sustainable agriculture program. The program is expected to provide a plethora of knowledge, including how to grow and manage perennial food and orchard crops to help feed a population within a 150-mile radius.
"It's an opportunity, we hope, to create some small entrepreneurs around local farming," Weber said.