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Panola sees record enrollment

By Hannah DeClerk
Feb. 2, 2012 at 10 p.m.

Panola College was recently named one of the fastest growing community colleges in the state of Texas and has been nationally recognized for its efforts in technology .

With all of its accomplishments, the institution is growing at such a rapid rate that administrators are looking at ways to expand their facilities in order to offset the institution's mounting wait lists.

"This semester is our eighth consecutive semester in record enrollment, and when compared to a year ago we are up 10 percent," Dr. Gregory Powell, President of Panola College said. "We are absolutely at capacity a Panola College. And that is something we are seriously going to have to tackle now is in order to continue to grow we are going to have to have more facility, more space."

In Nov. 2011, the Texas Association of Community Colleges (TACC) recognized Panola College for having the largest percentage enrollment growth of all community colleges in the state.

According to Powell, the college has 2,442 students currently enrolled in their credit programs, and over 1,000 enrolled in the non-credit side.

Last fall, e.Republic's Center for Digital Education and Converge Online announced winners in the seventh annual Digital Community Colleges Survey and Panola College was again a "Digital Community College Survey Winner," placing in the top ten in the category of small colleges with 5,000 students or fewer.

Of the students enrolled in the college, 60 percent of the students are currently enrolled in online courses, placing Panola in the top ten digital colleges in the country, according to Powell.

"I am very proud of our online offerings," he said. Students love online courses. Even the students who live in our residence halls and could walk to class in five minutes choose to take an online class."

He said when he became president of Panola over 20 years ago, the student population was around 1,400, and since they have not added any additional space to the campus.

"We did convert an old residence hall into a classroom building when we built new apartments. And we did build a new library," he said. "But that didn't increase classroom space."

He said they have also added an additional classroom space in the Marshall mall, but enrollment in Marshall is up 42 percent.

Many of the students at Panola also prefer to live on campus, and currently there is a waiting list for the residence hall, and student apartments.

"So in addition to the classroom space, we are going to be looking at expanding on campus housing too," he said.

He said people often ask him why enrollment has been on a steady incline with enrollment, especially since out of the 50 community colleges in the state; almost half are down in enrollment.

"It is not a state-wide phenomenon that everyone is growing," he said. "I think what makes us different is that we talk a lot here about personal attention and conveying the message to students that we care about them. And I certainly think that helps."

He said the majority of students who graduate from Panola either continue on to a four-year institution, or get hired almost immediately to high paying occupations.

"The programs we have, particularly in the health sciences and petroleum technology, students are graduating and getting grade jobs," he said.

He explained the petroleum technology program is evaluated annually by an advisory board in order to receive input for what changes need to be made in the curriculum and skill sets for the workplace.

"I would say petroleum technology and health sciences are the most popular degrees," he said. "We could expand in both those areas if we had the space, and the faculty."

He said the space most needed is at the Carthage campus, especially in the health sciences programs including laboratory space.

"We took as many students as we could into chemistry, and then had to turn students away," he said. "And we certainly want people to continue to apply to our programs, but we maintain a full wait list entering classes every semester."



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