A closer examination of Gila Community College's growth reveals that the most quickly growing subjects mirror employment opportunities and demographics in this rural county.
The programs with enrollment jumps greater than 10 percent include art, computers, health care education, health and physical education, and nursing.
This year's enrollment, which includes full and part-time students, was up 52 percent, to 2,584 as of Aug. 25. Numbers change slightly throughout the semester, said Todd Haynie, director of marketing and public relations for Eastern Arizona College, which oversees GCC.
The Globe campus' enrollment is larger than Payson's by 380 students.
The number that represents full-time students, which is more a count of credits for funding purposes, rose by 37 percent to roughly 711 students for both campuses.
A large number of students enroll only part-time, which could reflect the county's older population, Haynie said. Fifty-two percent of all GCC students are over the age of 55.
Payson's Dean Pamela Butterfield has said she could only speculate on the college's substantial growth. She said she's seeing increased numbers of younger students.
"We've developed some programs that are needed by the community," said board member Larry Stephenson, citing nursing and the fire science programs as examples. He suspected a stagnating economy marginally affected enrollment increases.
"We're finally offering what the community wants and what the community needs," Stephenson added.
Payson's largest private sector employers are in health care and social assistance, while Payson Unified School District is the largest public sector employer, according to an Arizona Commerce Department report released this year. The report analyzed 2004 economic statistics.
The report notes that the arts, entertainment, and recreation industries experienced the second largest decline, behind construction, between 2001 and 2004. However, the large number of retirees could account for the popularity of art classes.