How College of DuPage bucks state's enrollment decline

What's College of DuPage's secret?

While Illinois' community college system struggles with enrollment declines, the Glen Ellyn campus joined only two other districts that grew head count since fall 2010, officials say.

COD President Robert Breuder invokes business principles when he explains how COD bucks the trend. When he took the helm in 2009, there were no marketing and planning departments, no "real sense of where we were going," he said.

"We want market share," Breuder said. "If we're big today, we want to be bigger tomorrow."

The numbers back him up: After the first 10 days of classes this fall, the number of credit-seeking students climbed 3 percent compared to last fall.

Rend Lake College in southern Illinois ranked higher, at 7.3 percent, but that only equated to 199 extra heads, while COD gained 849 for a total of 29,476. Statewide enrollment trended just the opposite: down 4 percent.

During Breuder's tenure, COD has added 60 programs of study.

While COD benefits from a relatively wealthy property tax base, administrators have done a "very good job" of investing in emerging careers, says Diana Robinson, the head Northern Illinois University's Center for Governmental Studies, which has tracked the economic impact of the state's community colleges.

COD also has earned a reputation for strong relationships with employers, which lets students see a clear path from school to jobs, Robinson said.

Breuder said the "build it, they will come" approach doesn't work on its own when it comes to attracting new students.

Promotion is key, Breuder said.

In the 2014 fiscal year, officials budgeted about $6.4 million for COD's Marketing, External Relations and Creative Services, which does market research, oversees the radio station, print publications and other media and holds events with business groups and high school districts.

"Not all community colleges are willing to invest in telling the story," Breuder said.

Schools have to focus on niche markets, Breuder said, pointing to what officials call COD's centers for excellence in disciplines like health care, manufacturing and homeland security training.

"It's what been practiced for years in the world of business," he said.

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