McHenry County College had the highest rate of growth in student head count and full-time-equivalent enrollment in the last five years of all community colleges in Illinois, officials said.
The fall 2012 opening enrollment survey from the Illinois Community College Board shows that MCC is up 33.9 percent in student head count -- from 5,374 students in fall 2008 to 7,914 students now -- and up 31 percent in full-time-equivalent enrollment since 2008.
Community colleges across the state posted large increases in enrollment in 2009 after the economic downturn, but not all were able to hold onto those gains, college board spokesman Steve Morse said.
"There's a lot of variation across the state. Sometimes it might be from one district to the next. This has to do with the demographics within the community, and a lot of times with the economic situations in those districts," he said. "Some of the enrollments are still pretty high, others are declining."
Altogether, community colleges averaged a 7.5 percent increase in head count enrollment in 2009, but had declines of 1.1 percent in 2010, 1.9 percent in 2011 and 3.8 percent in 2012.
MCC leads the pack of community colleges that posted five-year gains. In the Chicago suburbs, Waubonsee Community College had a 25.5 percent increase in head count enrollment since 2008, Elgin Community College had a 17.6 percent increase, College of Lake County had a 7.4 percent increase, Oakton Community College had a 6.1 percent increase and College of DuPage had a 1.9 percent increase. Harper College, on the other hand, had a 3.9 percent decline since 2008.
Tony Miksa, vice president of academic and student affairs at MCC, said college officials are still analyzing the data to see which programs were most affected by the increase.
A big factor in the enrollment increase was the now-defunct Promise program, which offered free tuition in fall 2009 for students who met certain criteria, Miksa said. Though many of the 940 original students dropped out of the program, more than half remained enrolled at the college two years later.
MCC is offering more flexible options like later classes, online classes, and courses that combine online and classroom teaching, officials said. The college is also offering new certificate and degree programs in culinary management, graphic arts and nursing, the latter also offered on weekends.
The college increased dual-credit programs and developed new curriculums with a focus on manufacturing, Miksa said. MCC also expanded its reach by having classes in Harvard and Woodstock, and is now looking for locations in Huntley.
The admissions and marketing offices developed a program to reach out to people who had applied to MCC but not yet enrolled, officials said. The college also added more new-student orientation sessions and early advising for students.
"What's important is that we're educating more residents, and giving them more opportunities for their careers and more opportunities to transfer to four-year institutions," Miksa said.