ALABAMA (WHNT) – The coronavirus pandemic dealt a hefty blow to community colleges in the state of Alabama as the enrollment numbers dropped sharply in recent years. But now community colleges across the state are boasting about an increase in enrollment.

Nearly 80,000 students in the state of Alabama are heading into the spring semester in February. That’s 10,000 more than a year ago when the pandemic changed the learning landscape. 

For community colleges in Alabama, the challenge was clear and daunting. Officials had to pick up the pieces while developing recruiting strategies to entice a pool of skeptical, potential students that were scared off due to the coronavirus shutdown. 

“Just learn the basics and see if it’s something you might look to continue as a career,” said Mark Moore, Director of Public Relations at Drake State Community and Technical College.  

That is the theme for Moore and Drake State, who said the key is giving a potential student an up-close look at how the city of Huntsville is growing and the demand for skilled workers is on the rise. 

“Drake as a community and technical college is perfectly poised to help students enter the workforce here in Huntsville,” said Moore. 

Labor shortages are now the hallmark of the recovering state’s economy. According to the Alabama Department of Labor, there are nearly 30,000 more job listings for skilled tradesmen than unemployed people in the state.

Moore said those numbers will likely change for the better as the economy continues to grow in north Alabama and in-person learning returns. 

“During COVID we went through virtual learning and it was a benefit. But we have all of the technology now to make sure our students are getting what they need. Now we’re back to in-person learning and we are really pleased that enrollment has increased this year over last year not just here at Drake but through most community colleges in our state,” Moore explained. 

According to the Department of Labor, employers have added over 12,000 skilled labor jobs within the past year. Employers are hopeful that the rising community college enrollment rates will help to lower that number.