Community Colleges' enrollment rises as students hunt for good values

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Capital News Service
LANSING — For Klayton Benbow, getting a quality education at an affordable price is more than just a tag line.
Benbow, a former airman, is using the G.I. bill to attend Montcalm Community College. He is studying criminal justice with the goal of becoming a prison warden some day.
“I attend MCC not only because the cost is less, but they also have a good quality faculty,” Benbow said.
Benbow’s situation is not that uncommon. Many students across the state are making similar decisions.
“Community college enrollment is up 8 percent this year and they should expect continual increase over the next few years,” said Tom Bernthal, president of the Michigan Community College Association.
“That number is conservative because we’re not including contracts for private consulting and training.”
Benbow said several students attend MCC because they want be near home and better themselves.
“A lot of people prefer to stay close to the community and get an associate’s degree with the goal of obtaining an entry-level position,” he said.
“They’re just trying to get their foot in the door to make some money so they can afford to further their education if they want to.”
And Benbow wants to. After graduation this summer, he plans to attend Ferris State University. Though the tuition will be higher, he’s going to tough it out.
“If I want my bachelors I have no choice but to pay higher fees,” Benbow said. “I’m kind of lucky, the rate of the G.I. bill is going to increase from $800 to $1,000 by 2003 and I will also be looking for scholarships to finance my education.”
Lon Holton, dean of student services at Montcalm Community College, said MCC has seen a significant rate of increase.
“Our enrollment is up 5 percent this spring. People are preparing for an economic downturn,” he said.
Holton said MCC has had increases in the arts, science and math departments lately. He said that is due to students’ desire to get a good education at a low price.
“I think it’s a case of looking at community colleges as a cost-effective alternative to transfer later to a four-year university.”
Currently Montcalm Community College offers upgrading and retraining courses, a wide variety of non-credit and recreation courses, employment services, counseling, financial aid assistance, career planning services and tutoring. The college is widely used by local area residents.
“We are seeing an increased number of enrollment from our K-12 area. There is actually a pattern that indicates we should see constant increase over the next few years,” Holton said.
Former Democratic Gov. James J. Blanchard supports the idea of getting an education from a community college.
“Everyone does not have to go to a four-year university to get a good education. Universities are not for everyone,” Blanchard, who is running for governor again, said in a Capital News Service interview.
Blanchard is responsible for the Tuition Incentive Program that was introduced in the early Ô90s. TIP is a grant used to fund education for low-income students. The grant can be used at Michigan community colleges and some land grant universities. He said the TIP program is an important part of encouraging students to attend community colleges.
“The community college is an absolute transition for a job industry that has real promise.”
© 2002, Capital News Service, Michigan State University School of Journalism

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