Pasco-Hernando Community College expects a drop in enrollment when spring classes begin next week, a decline possibly driven by the combination of an improving job market and a natural correction to years of exploding growth.
The numbers are fluid as late registration continues through Friday, but as of the middle of last week, PHCC was expecting 8,661 full- and part-time students for the spring semester that starts Monday.
That's down about 7.8 percent from the same time last year, when the college's head count was 9,390 students.
Lucy Miller, marketing director for the college, said the enrollment drop isn't unique to PHCC.
"It's a statewide trend," Miller said. "People are pointing to the fact the economy is starting to recover."
Traditionally, college enrollment increases during a poor economy as people seek to add new skills and degrees to their resumes. As the economy picks up, that enrollment trend begins to reverse itself.
This particular enrollment decline also was anticipated somewhat because PHCC experienced several years of unprecedented growth, and college officials figured eventually there would be a natural correction to that.
"We were having double digit growth year after year," Miller said. "Education is very cyclical."
Enrollment also declined slightly in 2011-12, but PHCC had 8.6 percent growth in 2010-11 and enrollment grew 19.8 percent in 2009-10.
A third possible factor in this year's drop in students, Miller said, is changes to the way government grants are awarded. Some funds that helped students pay for their educations aren't as available as they once were, she said.
Even with fewer students anticipated, PHCC continues to use most of its classroom space and caps in enrollment are in place for some courses, Miller said.
By this time next year, the college will have additional room with the opening of a new campus under construction on Mansfield Boulevard in Wesley Chapel, next to Wiregrass Ranch High School.
Miller said the Wesley Chapel campus, known as the Porter Campus at Wiregrass Ranch, is on schedule to open in January 2014.
"We feel like we are on track, barring any natural disaster," she said.
The college lost about 30 days of construction work in 2012 because of a summer that was wetter than usual, but managed to recapture some of those days before the year ended, she said.
PHCC expects to attract more students with the opening of that campus, as well as the addition in the fall of more bachelor's programs and associate of science programs, Miller said.
The Wesley Chapel campus would be the fifth for PHCC. The college's main campus is in New Port Richey, and it also has Dade City, Brooksville and Spring Hill campuses.