The two-year schools are funded for 216,500 full-time students but have enrolled at least 236,500 since the beginning of the fall semester, Community College System President Scott Ralls told the State Board of Community Colleges at a board meeting in Fayetteville.
The numbers mark a 14 percent increase in curriculum programs – those resulting in a degree, certificate or diploma.
"Our colleges are being squeezed between unprecedented enrollment numbers and continued budget reductions and reversions," Ralls said in a statement. "We can only put so many seats in a classroom, and we can only add so many faculty with limited dollars. Our colleges are forced to cut off enrollment in certain courses and programs, but we continue our mission of welcoming those North Carolinians seeking education and training, even if we can't immediately put them in the specific class or program they want."
Enrollment typically peaks at community colleges during economic downturns, as people take the opportunity to upgrade their skills.
Many community colleges have increased class sizes and faculty workloads, limited faculty and staff travel and deferred equipment purchases to deal with the budget cuts, Ralls said.
"We are working to offer as many flexible options for our students as possible, such as short-term training and more online courses," he said. "But we have to face the reality that we can't continue to respond to every individual need when we are stuck between the hard rocks of high enrollment and dwindling resources."