Statistics show that more students are attending Ridgewater College on a full-time basis than in years past

WILLMAR -- Three-quarters of the students at Ridgewater College's Willmar campus attend school full time. That's in contrast to six years ago when only about 40 percent were full-time students. Enrollment information indicates that Ridgewater is ...

WILLMAR -- Three-quarters of the students at Ridgewater College's Willmar campus attend school full time.

That's in contrast to six years ago when only about 40 percent were full-time students.

Enrollment information indicates that Ridgewater is a school in transition, from one serving predominantly part-time and technical students to one of more full-time students evenly split between general education and technical programs.

The college's Hutchinson campus has seen similar growth, from 22 percent full-time students in 2000 to about half today.

Enrollment at the school grew slightly from fall 2005 to fall 2006, from a full-time equivalent of 2,893 students to 2,911.


In real numbers, the college served more than 5,600 students last year, including those attending school part time. The Willmar campus has about twice as many students as the Hutchinson campus does.

The shift from part-time to full-time students on both campuses is seen as a positive change for the school, said Betty Strehlow, vice president of academic affairs and student services.

It has created some challenges. Scheduling has changed over time as demand for evening classes has diminished, she said.

Online courses could eventually take the place of evening classes for many working students who attend college part-time. The college is offering more classes over the Internet all the time, but has been moving into the area gradually, Strehlow said.

"We are taking it slowly to be sure we maintain quality," she said. "The outcomes for the student should be the same."

The school's minority population has increased, too. A few years ago, about 2 percent of students listed themselves as members of a minority group. Now, it's 5 percent.

The number is probably higher, said College President Douglas Allen, because students decide for themselves what race to list or whether to list one at all when they register.

The total number could be as high as 7 percent, Strehlow said, but it's hard to know for sure.


Another change has been an increase in general education students, particularly in Hutchinson. On both campuses, the student body is now split roughly in half between those in technical programs and those taking general education classes.

While enrollment in traditional classes has increased only slightly, that is in keeping with the entire state college system, which has seen enrollment increases of about 1 percent, said College President Douglas Allen.

Ridgewater in Willmar could see a different in the coming years as some of the community's economic development plans move ahead, Allen said. If the MinnWest Technology Campus growth is in line with projections, that could have an "explosive impact" on the community and the college, he said.

The college is moving closer to having a wind turbine on campus, a cooperative project with Willmar Municipal Utilities. Allen said he hopes to have contract details ironed out soon, but it could be a couple years before the wind turbine would be installed and operating.

The presence of the turbine could help the college beef up its classes that prepare students for careers in alternative energy fields. "I believe we have to start preparing people to work in that industry," Allen said.

The college also sees a large enrollment in its customized education classes. Last year the school served more than 300 businesses by providing specialized training for their employees. In all, nearly 6,000 people participated in the classes.

A predominant issue for students across the state is the rising cost of a post-secondary education.

"Our students have always worked, by and large," Allen said. As many as 90 percent of students at Ridgewater have work study jobs or outside employment.


Students are taking out more loans and are working longer hours outside school than they did in the past, he said.

"There are more barriers than there used to be," he said.

Ridgewater, like other schools in the Minnesota State College and Universities system, has an ambitious action plan for this school year and the future.

One effort is to try to retain more students from the fall semester to the spring.

"We actually don't do too badly," Allen said, but there are always some students who leave after one semester.

Allen sees a silver lining in those situations, too. While Ridgewater loses a student in each case, the students have reached some conclusions about what they want to do next in their lives, and that's probably a good thing for them, he said.

Other items on the action plan include encouraging contact between Ridgewater instructors and their counterparts in K-12 schools, increasing multi-cultural awareness on campus and increasing on-line course offerings.

What To Read Next
Get Local