On a recent Tuesday, a long line of students waiting to get into the cramped bookstore at Century College in White Bear Lake stretched down the hall and around a corner. A nearby lounge was teeming with students, every table occupied and electrical outlets at a premium. Outside, the parking lot was so full that commuters were forced to use a gravel overflow lot behind the building on the far east end of the campus.
Space is tight at the two-year institution at 3300 Century Av. where a 6 percent increase in enrollment this fall -- 513 students more than last year -- has administrators using every available square inch for instruction and even sharing offices to free up additional room. The college also hired extra full-time faculty, moved some classes off campus and added extra sections of prerequisites to keep up with demand.
And for the first time, students who registered late could not get into classes.
"We are desperate for more classroom space," said Mike Bruner, vice president of Student Services and College Facilities. "We could have 30 students show up with money and have to turn them away for lack of space."
With the equivalent of 10,976 full-time students (and more than 27,000 total students when part-time and continuing education students are included) and with an average of 97 percent of seats in all classes campus-wide full, school officials say they need more room. They are thinking of asking the Legislature to include money in an upcoming bonding bill that would allow for constructing a building containing up to 25 more classrooms.
Officials also are looking to lease off-campus space nearby, and have started offering evening classes in English, psychology, sociology and communication at its Transportation Training Center, a facility in Afton primarily used for its truck driving school, Bruner said.
"We are at capacity; we have no empty classrooms, they're totally jammed," said Ron Anderson, vice president of academic affairs. "It is a good problem to have, rather than trying to figure out what to do with declining enrollment."
The space crunch is so dire that some staff members are sharing space this year and their former offices are being used as classrooms. Even so, every room on campus is booked from 7:45 a.m. to 3 p.m. and "very full after that," Anderson said.
Packed classrooms have impacted some students' ability to fill their schedule or get classes when they want them. While the college has not officially turned anybody away, those who signed up after Aug. 13 might not have been able to get what they wanted, or when they wanted it, Anderson said.
"Students could not get a full load," Bruner said. "They got six credits when they wanted 15. We have hundreds of students who would take more credits if classroom space were available."
School officials expected the enrollment boom and hired 25 full-time faculty members this year. They also added extra sections of core courses such as English, communication, mathematics and psychology. Anderson said he hopes to mitigate the weekday space crunch by increasing enrollment in online courses, and getting students to take Saturday classes, which were offered for the first time last year.
Faculty members such as Elliot Wilcox say they have not been affected as much by the high student numbers. He said enrollment caps on each course, established by the Academic Affairs Council, have kept class sizes manageable. Still, the music theory instructor and orchestra director is seeing more faces in his classes.
"It's kind of a boom town around here and it keeps us jumping," he said. "It does affect faculty. The work is more intense, but on the reverse, we don't want to have a class canceled because only five or 10 enrolled."
Tim Harlow • 651-735-1824