The student populations at East Valley college and university campuses are on course for record numbers again this year, officials said Monday.
Exact figures won't be released until later this year. However, early counts indicate some campuses have already hit peak levels, while others anticipate doing the same by the end of the week.
As the fall semester started Monday, students differed on whether East Valley campuses are overcrowded.
"It's just too big," said Theo McCalvin, a senior communications and sociology major at Arizona State University in Tempe. "There's not enough parking for faculty and students . . . and there's not enough sections of the classes, especially if you're trying to graduate."
But Matt Abram, who attends Scottsdale Community College, had another experience.
"My first class was very nice. There weren't many people in it," he said.
"There are tons of spaces and no parking permits."
Mesa Community College had an unusually busy first day. Nearly 600 students completed last-minute registrations Monday, said Carol Petersen, director of admission and records.
Usually, 200 to 300 students wait until the first day of class to enroll, said Sonia Moreno-Filan, an MCC spokeswoman. More than 2,000 students are expected to register this week alone, Petersen said. The registration deadline is Friday.
The student population at MCC is expected to top 28,000 this fall, Moreno-Filan said. Enrollment last year was 27,108.
Arizona State University anticipates enrollment will grow again this year to approximately 59,000 students, with growth greatest at the ASU East and ASU West campuses, said Nancy Neff, assistant vice president for public affairs. Last year's tally was 57,543.
ASU President Michael Crow wants to accommodate the growth by increasing capacity at the east and west campuses, and at the planned campus in downtown Phoenix, Neff said. Plans call for curbing growth at the main campus in Tempe, where enrollment has stayed just under 50,000 the past several years, she said.
Heather Hill, a graduate of Mesa's Mountain View High School and now a freshman at ASU's main campus, said she's not intimidated.
"The people here are really friendly, a lot friendlier than in high school," she said. Peter Wolf, a faculty member in ASU's School of Design, said there are trade-offs. The school offers a "design awareness" course with classes as large as 425 students. He said it's a great introductory class, but with that many students, there's no attention to the individual.
About 4,000 students have enrolled at ASU East, a 13 percent jump over last year, said Chris Lambrakis, assistant director of public affairs.
Students at ASU East said it's still fairly easy to register for required and popular classes, although it's becoming more difficult.
"If you pre-register you can usually get the classes you want," said Daniel Woodland, 26, of Ahwatukee Foothills.
Some students, however, complained their commute is too long, with many driving from Peoria and Glendale to attend classes at ASU East.
Nearly 8,000 students began classes Monday at Chandler-Gilbert Community College, said Maria Hesse, the school's president. The final tally at the end of the week should top last year's enrollment of 12,000 students by 5 percent to 10 percent, she said.
"We've never had a year where we haven't grown," Hesse said. "We're right in the path of growth."
Tuition costs at four-year universities are fueling growth at the community colleges, Hesse said.
Paradise Valley Community College's enrollment in Phoenix was at 7,989 Monday, up 7.5 percent from last year, said spokesman Rod Fensom.
"We're very happy about that," Fensom said. "We attribute that to growth in the East Valley.
Scottsdale Community College had signed up 10,815 students Monday, about 300 fewer than last year, said Althea Long, coordinator of marketing and public relations. She said enrollment would probably top the previous year by week's end.
Between 500 and 600 students came out for orientation over the weekend, more than last year, she said.
"Every year it keeps getting bigger," she said.
Enrollment at Tempe-based Rio Salado Community College is up 53 percent over this time last year, said Linda Bird, public relations manager. The college caters to working adults by providing courses over the Internet. Nearly 42,000 students, mostly in Maricopa County, enrolled at the college last year, she said.
With enrollment at an all-time high, state funding for higher education also increased this year — the first time in several years.
- Staff writers Tracy Kurtinitis, Susan Padilla, Blake Herzog and Le Templar and Capitol Media Services contributed to this report.