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Nursery rhymes aren't the stuff of college curricula, but Salt Lake Community College President O.D. Carnahan may feel like he has a little bit in common with the old woman who lived in the shoe.

The community college is in the middle of a population explosion - one that started early in the 1980s and is projected to continue well into the next decade.In the past 10 years, the college's enrollment has soared 64 percent, including the addition of students at several satellite campuses. And waiting in the wings is a new satellite campus, the South City Campus, located at the old South High, that has the potential of boosting SLCC's headcount another 5,000 students when it begins classes in 1991.

This fall, 11,279 students are enrolled at SLCC. That's a whopping 17.8 percent increase over last year when there were 9,577. That number increases the student body to more than 14,000 if enrollment at the Skills Center and non-credit classes are added.

For full-time equivalent students, or those taking a full class load of 15 credit hours, the enrollment totals 6,842, a 15 percent increase over last year and 422 more over the funding level appropriated by the Legislature.

"The day before classes opened, we had 19 sections with no classrooms to meet in. It took great effort to find ways of solving that problem," said Academic Vice President Ann Erickson.

"Our vocational programs increased slightly this quarter," added Elwood Zaugg, dean of the school of occupational education. "Currently, there are more jobs available than we can fill in the fields of automotive mechanics, electricity, welding and building construction."

Although Utah State University and Weber State College are currently bigger than SLCC, there are those in Utah higher education who think SLCC is well on its way to becoming the second largest public college in the state.

Is there a limit to how big SLCC can grow? "The biggest one is the psychological limit - that and finances," said Carnahan. "I don't think that psychological limit will come from the Utah system of higher education, but from those in the community who will say, `You're big enough. Maybe someone else (in the higher education system) can handle it."'

Carnahan believes it's unrealistic to think Utah's rural, two-year colleges with empty slots could absorb SLCC students. Ninety percent of the college's students come from Salt Lake County, and the average age is 29.

"Students have families, so they just can't pick up and move. Most are older, many are single parents, they don't have the option of moving to Cedar City or St. George to go to school," the president said.

SLCC, like other community colleges in an urban setting, is booming because it offers educational opportunity, as well as a route to economic survival, close to home.

Some mistakenly still think of SLCC as Trade Tech, failing to recognize the college's comprehensive role.

While not ignoring vocational education - the educational component that gave the school its birth - SLCC has other educational functions.

Its biggest growth in the past few years has been in general education, where the credits are transferable to a four-year college or university. The community college lets students test out the college waters before making the big, and more expensive, plunge at a university. It also offers remedial courses, or what the college calls developmental courses, that help bring an academically struggling student up to college level.

Among the school's other functions is training students in a number of technological fields, preparing them to enter the job market upon graduation. It also serves as an educational resource to local industry, offering short-term, intensive training for workers.

The students flocking to the school in record numbers understand these different facets. But public perception, although gradually changing, still doesn't match reality. Carnahan thinks one of SLCC's challenges is to help the community recognize the college's roles - and its value."One of our biggest jobs is getting visibility for what we really are."