East Central College enrollment has slightly declined for the third consecutive year.

The total fall enrollment, including ECC locations at Rolla, Sullivan, Warrenton and Washington, is down 3.5 percent, a trend college administrators attribute to a slightly improving economy.

“This trend is not unexpected and is consistent with what most community colleges across the state and nation are experiencing,” President Jon Bauer said.

A total of 3,901 students are enrolled at ECC, down from 4,043 last fall. They are taking 37,670 credit hours.

“Since we’re an open admission, we tend to be somewhat countercyclical, meaning that when the economy worsens, our enrollment goes up,” Bauer said. “Flat or shrinking high school graduation class sizes also are a factor.”

Bauer said demographics also work against the college.

“The number of traditional college-age people is diminishing,” he said. “Largely, we’re seeing a decrease in the returning nontraditional age students, and I think some of that is actually positive, community wise. We’re seeing some improvements in the economy.”

Bauer said the large number of adults who enrolled in 2009 and 2010 have completed their programs and moved into the work force or transferred on to a four-year college or university.

Nevertheless, Bauer said he is encouraged by the number of returning students this semester.

“We saw an increase in sophomore students, with 60 percent of the students who were enrolled last fall taking classes at ECC again this semester,” he said. “Retention is something we focused on the past year. We are excited that our efforts to help students on the path to graduation are working out.”

Part-time students outnumber full-time students this semester. Those taking less then 12 credit hours account for more than 52 percent of the student population.

Bauer said that the number of first-time degree- seeking students stands at 782, a drop of 48 students from last year.

Almost 44 percent of ECC students are classified as transfer majors who intend to move on to a four-year college or university after ECC.

Women make up 62 percent of the student body, an increase of 2 percent over last fall. The mean student age is 24.

While enrollment is down this semester, it still remains significantly higher than a decade ago, when fall enrollment totaled just more than 3,200 students.

ECC’s peak fall enrollment was in 2010 with 4,471 students.