Community Colleges Rising in Popularity

Increasing economic pressures are forcing many families to reconsider their kids’ college plans, namely by moving community college to the top of the list. The reason for the move is …

Increasing economic pressures are forcing many families to reconsider their kids’ college plans, namely by moving community college to the top of the list. The reason for the move is rather simple: Community college, when compared to traditional four-year institutions, is a much cheaper alternative, and when college savings plans are suffering, the cheaper the better.

According to information from the Department of Education, enrollment at two-year colleges rose 10 percent between 2000 and 2006. Beginning this fall, some institutions are predicting a 10 percent increase in enrollment from just last year, a trend that has no doubt been furthered by a sagging economy.

While students are flocking to community colleges because of the lower costs, the educational institutions themselves are worried that the influx may strain both their facilities and budgets, according to MSNBC. Community Colleges typically receive 60 percent of their funding from state and local sources, so if the state is struggling, funding for community colleges could suffer (For more on state budgets, check out our blog post, Think U.S. Economy Is Bad Now? Just Wait, Says New York Times). Couple funding woes with an inability to house the extra students and local two-year institutions may be facing some adversity they aren’t used to.

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At Carroll Community College in Maryland, the school budgeted for just a 4 to 5 percent increase in enrollment, whereas total enrollment this fall may be closer to 7 percent or more, meaning money is tight on both sides, according to Gazzette.net.

Not only are first time college-goers seeking out the community college route, but experienced professionals are coming back to school in order to gain new skills as the job market tightens.

According to NBC17.com, a Durham, N.C.,-area news station, a number of the working class is acquiring additional education to improve their odds of employment and a higher salary. North Carolina’s unemployment rate is among the highest in the nation; it was measured at a seasonally adjusted 6.6 percent as of last month, topping the national average of 6.1 percent. Many job seekers are striving to gain the extra skills necessary to ensure employment, which often means heading back to school.

Two-year schools are intended to be open-access, making anyone eligible to enroll, according to MSNBC. This policy could work against the schools if funding cannot keep up with enrollment.

At Durham Technology Community College, the average age of its students decreased from 32 to 26, according to NBC17.com, as high school graduates look for a cheaper route to a traditional four-year college or university. However, even though community colleges are cheaper than four-year institutions, some worry that a job market surrounded in so much uncertainty waiting for them after graduation will make it hard to repay any student loan debt they incur.

High school graduates and professionals going back to school will both likely continue to seek community colleges in order to help curb the rising costs of education. Community colleges will hope to continue to provide the services that made them so popular from the get-go, should funding levels not suffer a drop-off: small class sizes, easy access and low costs. These factors could help community colleges continue to attract students even after the economy levels out.

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