Butler Community College surpassed 10,000 students for the first time last fall. Cowley College's satellite campus in Mulvane saw its enrollment nearly triple the past two years.
More students are enrolling in Kansas community colleges, looking to save money on tuition and get training for the job market in tight economic times. The schools are struggling to meet the demand because increased enrollment isn't offsetting expenses brought by state budget cuts and stagnant local property taxes.
Kansas City Kansas Community College has cut just about as much as it can, said Brian Bode, vice president for student and administrative services.
The school has freezes on hiring. Travel budgets for faculty and staff have been slashed, and budgets for supplies are lower. Tuition went up in 2010-11, but it's still pretty affordable at around $65 per credit hour, including both tuition and fees, Bode said.
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Low tuition is a selling point for community colleges, which are trying to keep from raising prices.
"Last year, we used federal stimulus money so we wouldn't have to raise tuition," said Bill Rinkenbaugh, vice president of student services for Butler.
Tuition accounts for about 39 percent of Butler's operating budget; 28 percent comes from state funding, and 25 percent from local property taxes.
The latter two are staying the same, or dropping.
"We're trying to find ways of doing things more efficiently," Rinkenbaugh said.
Tony Crouch, executive vice president of business services at Cowley College, said the school experienced 20 percent growth over last year in terms of total credit hours taken.
He estimated more than 50 percent of the college's expenses fluctuate depending on enrollment. And student tuition makes up only 30 percent of his budget.
Growth in a slow economy isn't all bad news, however.
Cowley County is moving online, where Crouch said more than one-third of the students are enrolled. Many classes meet in person only one-third of the time and online the rest of the time. That eases space restrictions, he said.
On the Mulvane campus, which meets in a former elementary school, enrollment jumped from 200 in 2008 to more than 500 this year.
"It's really been fantastic and exciting," said Cynthia Jones, coordinator for the Mulvane center.
There had been parking problems, which were alleviated when two nearby churches opened their lots to students during the week, she said.
"We do have limited space," Jones said. "We set up classes with a certain number, and we can't go above that number."
Even with online enrollment, getting into a class can be like buying tickets to a rock concert.
"You've got to get in early so you can get the classes you want," said Justin Schmidt, a Johnson County Community College student. He's in his fifth semester at the school.
Ethyn Gutierrez, a first-semester JCCC student, said he didn't have many problems enrolling. But he does have to plan for parking.
"I'm about 50 minutes early for class," he said. "If you have afternoon classes, you're walking a mile."
Butler Community College has already started registering students online for the summer term.
"And fall begins soon," said Ryan Entz, the school's director of marketing. "That's a lot earlier than we used to."