The total number of registered students at East Central College is slightly below fall 2011 start numbers.

Enrollment dropped 2 percent between this fall and last, but remains above 4,000 students for the seventh consecutive semester.

“We know that community colleges throughout the state and the country are seeing declines this fall, so this drop is not unexpected,” Dr. Jon Bauer, college president, said.

“However, we also know that enrollment is important and we have emphasized the importance of both recruiting new students and retaining those who enroll.”

Last August, the college had 4,127 students, compared to 4,043 students this August.

ECC’s enrollment dip is well below enrollment slides experienced by St. Louis community colleges.

According to reports, St. Louis Community College, St. Charles Community College and Jefferson College are experiencing a similar pattern.

Unofficial enrollment numbers indicate expected drops of 9.4 percent, 5.5 percent and 11.6 percent for the schools respectively.

The American Association of Community Colleges spokeswoman Norma Kent said schools across the nation are reporting enrollment declines.

Between 2010 and 2011, ECC registered a 7 percent decrease in enrollment. After growth close to 20 percent in the previous seven years a slump that size didn’t come as a surprise to faculty.

Bauer said East Central and other community colleges experienced a sharp increase in enrollment when economic conditions worsened several years ago. Many of those students have since completed their study at ECC, leading to a natural contraction in the college’s enrollment.

Others have struggled with balancing class work, temporary employment and family obligations through the downturn, he said, and dropped out.

Gradual improvements in economic conditions have encouraged some traditional college-age students to opt for four-year schools, or skip college in favor of work.

Additionally, high school classes are shrinking. The boom of high school graduates between 1994 and 1996 is not expected to return until well after 2015.

Over the past five fall semesters, total enrollment in credit hours at ECC has increased 18.2 percent.

This semester, ECC students are enrolled in 39,383 credit hours, a drop of 2.3 percent compared to last fall.

Part-time student status — a class load of less than 12 hours — applies to more than half of this semester’s students.

Just less than two-thirds of ECC students (2,511 students or 62 percent) attend classes at the main campus in Union.

The number of students taking classes at the college’s satellite locations in Rolla, Warrenton and Washington is up this semester, with enrollment at ECC in Sullivan the same as fall of 2011.

Four of the top five majors at ECC are transfer programs and more than 42 percent of ECC students take advantage of transfer program opportunities.

The pre-engineering program has attracted 125 students. There are 146 students classified as transfer business majors. The Associate of Arts in teaching program has 201 students. With 484 students, the associate degree nursing program is the second most popular course of study and 705 students are in the process of pursuing general studies.

This semester, ECC enrolled 11 out-of-state students and seven international students.

More than 2,500 students reside within the college district.