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It’s an interesting problem to have.

That’s what Associate Dean of Instruction Duane Matson said about the current enrollment numbers for Central Community College - Columbus. Located at 4500 63rd St., the campus is currently down in enrollment for welding, but up in mechatronics in comparison to last year.

For fall term 2018, enrollment throughout the campus’s welding courses totaled 100. Last fall, it was 146, according to Matson. In contrast, mechatronics was 187, up from 140. With the recent influx of students into the college's mechatronics program, the campus is struggling to manage.

“We’re at that point where some of these (classes), we don’t have the equipment, we don’t have the space, it’s a real problem,” Matson said. “(In the past) we typically figured out, 'OK one more, we’ll get them in somehow, but this might be a different semester for us.'”

Mechatronics is a type of engineering that focuses on both electrical and mechanical systems. Although CCC offers welding course at all of its campuses, the Columbus one is home to the vast majority of the school's mechatronics courses, with the campus having four labs dedicated to the subject.

Matson attributes the enrollment increase to a recent grant-funded recruitment effort for mechatronics. Due to the increased student population, classes have had to double up at workstations. Matson said they sometimes have to put three students at a station meant for one.

Allen Stenzel has been a mechatronics instructor at the campus for almost 14 years. He said in his time that he’s never seen enrollment numbers like this before.

“We fluctuate, but nothing like these last couple of years. It’s crazy,” Stenzel said. “We’ve pretty much maxed our instructor ability because we can’t spread them anymore.”

The school is looking into hiring additional part-time mechatronics instructors, but Matson said it can be difficult finding people both qualified and available to come teach. In the meantime, the large classes have made teaching more difficult, Stenzel said, due to space constraints and some students not getting the attention they need.

The welding program is having the opposite problem. Welding Instructor Bryce Standley said though they have a quality welding program, the school is struggling to stand out among the competition. He said the school might need to switch up its tactics if it is going to attract more welding students.

“As far as program and curriculum, I think we’re one of the best. But as far as how we’re going and recruiting, I think there needs to be a lot done,” Standley said. “We’ve got to do something more.”

At the moment, enrollment for spring term in welding classes is 131, down from 150 last year. Mechatronics is currently 89, up from last year’s 73. While fall 2019's enrollment is almost a year away, if it's anything like 2018, the campus could be forced to further restrict class sizes.

“If they’re interested in welding, they certainly can come up here, talk to the instructors and get registered,” Matson said. “If they’re interested in mechatronics, (they) might have to come back next semester.”

Eric Schucht is a reporter for the Columbus Telegram. Reach him via email at eric.schucht@lee.net.

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Eric Schucht earned his bachelor's degree in journalism at the University of Oregon in 2018. He has written for The Cottage Grove Sentinel, The Creswell Chronicle, The Pacific Northwest Inlander and The Roseburg News Review.

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