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Students Flock to 2-Year Schools During Recession

posted by Mark on February 10th, 2009

Students Flock to 2-Year Schools During RecessionAll across the country, student enrollment in two-year colleges is on the rise. States are reporting increases in community and technical college enrollments of upwards of 20% over last year, with one Idaho school more than doubling its enrollment since last spring. The reason isn’t hard to figure out: the recession.

Thanks to the struggles of the current economy, college students are increasingly choosing the cheaper alternative of two-year schools. Even students who want to pursue a Bachelor’s degree can save a significant amount of money — anywhere from $4,000 to $40,000 a year — by studying at a community college for the first two years of their post-secondary education and then transferring.

The trend isn’t surprising; even before the recession, the meteoric rise in tuition costs dampened the public’s enthusiasm for higher education. A recent survey by the National Center on Public Policy and Higher Education found that two-thirds of Americans feel that many qualified students don’t have the opportunity to attend college, the highest percentage in the study’s 15-year history. Eighty-six percent of respondents meanwhile believed that students have to borrow too much money to pay for college.

Students share this concern. In a 2008 report from the Higher Education Research Institute, the proportion of students stating that financial aid offers were “very important” or “essential” in choosing which school to attend was at its highest point (43%) in the survey’s 36-year history. As such, the percentage of students attending their first-choice college has declined to a 34-year low of 60.7%, and the percentage of students reporting that they’ll seek a job in order to pay for college is now at the highest (49.4%) that it’s ever been in the study.

Unfortunately, students who choose the two-year route are facing new, unforeseen obstacles in their pursuit of a degree. For instance, some banks have ceased extending loans to students at two-year schools and less-selective four-year schools, deeming them too risky in the current environment. Meanwhile, despite the flood of new students, many schools themselves are being asked to cut costs because governmental aid money is running short of demand.

Still, community and technical colleges remain an affordable alternative and the best option for many students, as about 42% of all college students currently attend two-year schools. The recent Congressional economic stimulus plan, which earmarks billions for education relief, should help make matters better for two- and four-year students alike, but it remains to be seen if there’s a long-term solution to making education affordable for all.

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