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By Ian K. Kullgren November 13, 2010

Portland Community College tries to put enrollment numbers in context, says it serves more students than the entire Oregon University System

It’s that time of the year again, when universities and colleges start to release their fall headcount numbers. Normally PolitiFact Oregon would leave this stuff to the education reporters -- except that one figure in the article Portland Community College wrote about its enrollment caught us by surprise.

After noting the total student headcount for this fall -- 41,409 -- PCC went on to say that annually, it serves "more than 93,800 students ... (more than all of the state’s universities combined)."

It was that last note that gave us pause. Could one community college really be serving more people than the entire state university system? We decided to find out.

First, we went back to Portland Community College and asked for more specific numbers. Laura Massey, the college’s director of institutional analysis, said that for the 2009-2010 academic year, Portland Community College served roughly 93,799 students. So the news release had that number right.

Next we went to the Oregon University System to check out their numbers. Bob Kieran, the assistant vice chancellor of institutional research and planning, told us that, for the same time period, the state-run universities served 122,883 students.

It’s clear that, with these numbers, the statement in the PCC release doesn’t hold up.

Before we issued a verdict, though, we decided to look at the numbers one other way. Overall student headcount can be a little misleading in that it counts every student, no matter the amount of time they actually spend on campus. Say you decide to take a single photography course for leisure, well, you’re counted the same as a student going to school full time in pursuit of a degree.

Luckily, Oregon community colleges and universities are also required to report "full-time equivalent" numbers. That means they combine part-time students and count them as one full-time student. One full-time equivalent is equal to a student being fully enrolled for the fall, winter and spring terms of a given year.

According to Massey, for the 2009-2010 school year, Portland Community College counted 31,395 full-time equivalents. Kieran says the entire Oregon University System counted 80,944.

Again, the numbers don’t support the PCC claim. (That, of course, doesn’t diminish the fact that Portland Community College serves an awful lot of students each year.)

James Hill, the man who wrote the enrollment numbers article, said that "it’s always been that case" that PCC served more students annually. He said he would review his numbers and thanked us for pointing out the discrepancy.

Seeing as how neither the total headcount or full time equivalent figures back PCC up, we find this claim False.

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Portland Community College tries to put enrollment numbers in context, says it serves more students than the entire Oregon University System

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