For decades, community colleges have been an alternative for post-high school graduates who cannot afford to go to a four-year college or university, or who want to attend a cost-efficient startup school. As important affordable options in the realm of higher education, community colleges’ role may be changing and shrinking.
According to an article in the Chronicle for Higher Education, many community colleges saw a 10 percent increase in enrollment from 2008–09, reflecting the impact of the recession on college students. With less money to spend, students turned to community colleges to save money for future investments such as transferring to a four-year college or university.
A study done by the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center showed that community-college enrollment has dropped since Spring 2011. As the recession eased between 2010–11, students could afford four-year universities again. With fewer students looking at community colleges, two-year institutions are scrambling to keep enrollment from dropping further. Manchester Community College, outside of Hartford, Conn., has been using social media and calling campaigns to promote opportunities to students.
Targeting high-school underclassmen may be the most effective method of increasing enrollment at community colleges. Finger Lakes Community College in Canandaigua, N.Y., offers a “311 Program,” which allows high-school students to finish their senior year of high school and freshman year of college simultaneously. Students would then earn their associate’s degrees the following year. This approach allows for early exposure to what community colleges offer and an opportunity to get ahead of the curve instead of waiting until after graduation.
Some community colleges seem desperate for enrollment. A panel in California is considering allowing community colleges to grant bachelor’s degrees, potentially following in the footsteps of 21 other states. By allowing this, students may not see the need to attend four-year colleges and universities where they typically earn bachelor’s degrees. Higher education would be changed with fewer students at four-year institutions and skyrocketing tuition at community colleges.
Efforts to keep steady enrollment at community colleges are necessary. Many cannot afford four-year colleges or universities. But with higher education accessible at a local level, students can eventually transfer to institutions, such as Ithaca College, and cut their expenses in half by attending community college first.