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Key Data Points and Terminology

Washington state community and technical colleges use certain words and phrases to describe enrollment and funding types.

Here are answers to a few of the most frequently asked questions: 

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Enrollment Data Dashboard

Our Enrollment Data Dashboard is the go-to source for most data. It includes data for our system of colleges and for individual colleges. 

For FTE and headcount, use these filters:

  • Academic year: Select the academic year you are interested in.
  • Period: annual
  • Student type: all
  • Fund source: all
  • Selected programs: all 

For all other data, we recommend you contact the SBCTC Communications Division to find out which filters to use.

  • See our fiscal year calculator to find out what fiscal year we're in right now. This page also includes a description of how state fiscal years are related to academic calendar years.
  • Academic year refers to the instructional calendar for a complete school year. While most students and faculty start their school year in the fall, the college academic year includes summer, fall, winter and spring quarters.

Put simply, headcount refers to the number of physical students enrolled at a college, regardless of how many hours they attend school. In contrast, FTE takes all those students, lumps them together, and divides them by a number of hours to come up with the “full time equivalent.” (The key here is the word “equivalent." FTE does not mean that the students are actually attending full time.) It’s like counting strawberries by individual berry or by the pint.

  • One Full-Time Equivalent Student (FTES) is the equivalent of one student enrolled for 15 community college credits per quarter. 
  • Headcount is the actual number of students enrolled, regardless of credit hours per student.


  • One student taking a full academic load of 15 credits is the equivalent of one FTES.
  • If three students are each taking one five-credit class, together they total one FTES.

Recommendations for usage

  • Use "headcount" when referring to how many individual students are enrolled in a college.
  • Use "FTES" when referring to state funding levels. 

What's the difference between FTES and FTE/FTEs?

  • FTE measures the workload or hours worked by one employee on a full-time basis.


State-supported courses are funded by a combination of legislative appropriation of state funds, plus student tuition.


Contract-supported courses are funded by grants and contracts with external organizations.  High school dual enrollment programs (for example, Running Start), college in prisons, and a portion of international student programs are the three largest programs in contract-supported.

Student-funded or self-support

Student-funded or self-support courses are funded entirely through fees paid by the students enrolled in them. Examples of student-funded courses are personal enrichment, parent education, and professional certifications such as human resources, project management and IT software.

Full-time status can be viewed in two ways:

  • Financial aid eligibility: For the purposes of awarding federal and state financial aid, a full-time student is enrolled for 12 or more credits per quarter. A part-time student is enrolled for 11 or fewer credits. Part-time students can still get financial aid, but their financial aid award is prorated.
  • Academic time to degree: To complete a 90-credit associate degree in two years requires “full-time” attendance of 15 credits per quarter x 3 quarters per year (fall, winter spring) for a total of 45 credits for each of the two years.

Learn more about the different types of certificates and degrees offered at Washington community and technical colleges.

"Open door admissions" means no student is screened out from enrolling in a community or technical college. Colleges offer classes and services for people at many levels of education; they accept students where they are and help them get to where they want to be.

This does not mean students may take any classes they choose. Incoming students still need to show they're academically prepared to take college-level courses  — either through a placement test or some other method. They might be ready for basic math. Or, they might be ready for advanced calculus. 

Students who are not prepared to take college-level courses may still enroll but might begin in pre-college (remedial) or Basic Education for Adults courses courses.

Washington Student Achievement Council

The Washington Student Achievement Council website also answers common questions about higher education in Washington state.

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Last Modified: 1/2/23, 7:49 PM

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