In bad economic times, community colleges thrive

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Capital News Service
LANSING – Record numbers of students are attending community colleges, according to the Michigan Community College Association.
Due to the state’s bad economy, students are choosing community colleges first to save money.
“It tends to be when we do well, other people are suffering,” said Michael Hansen, president of association.
Tuition at community colleges is cheaper than at a four-year college.
He said parents want their children to go to community college and live at home, save money, attend smaller classes and collect credits to transfer to a four-year college for a bachelor’s degree.
In addition to new high school graduates, many workers are going back to school to get more training in developing industries, he said.
“Community colleges will play a very vital role for students because we’re accessible, open door and provide sensible programs,” Tina Hoxie, dean of student affairs at Grand Rapids Community College said.
While community colleges can provide services to students less expensively, their capacity maybe limited, Hansen said. Due to high enrollment rates, some have turned down applicants for space and financial reasons.
Community colleges receive most of their revenue from tuition, property taxes and state appropriations.
Hansen said that recently state appropriations have been flat and property tax revenue has gone down, which may result in cuts.
“It’s a huge challenge to run an institution right now,” Hansen said.
While revenue is shrinking, programs like nano-science, technology and health care are expensive to provide.
Hansen said tuition may rise as a result, adding that grants are only a short-term solution and are hard to run community colleges on.
Despite this, another reason students are choosing community colleges because they provide services to help them succeed.
Achieving the Dream is an initiative based in Chapel Hill, N.C., that focuses on student success and helps more than 100 institutions in 21 states provide grants, conduct research, engage communities and plan for colleges to improve student success.
At Kalamazoo Valley Community College, the student success center is a free program to ensure that students stay in school. The program offers services such as counseling, transfer assistance, life resources and student advocacy.
Laura Cosby, director of the student success center, said some students would go to an office for advising and be referred to another but wouldn’t show up. That made it hard for advisors to keep track of students.
“I wasn’t sure if students were getting the information they need and were doing what was necessary for school,” Cosby said.
A key component to the Kalamazoo Valley student success center is tracking students. When a student seeks assistance or referrals, the system keeps track of visits and what was said.
“It teaches students to be independent,” Cosby said.
It also has a voluntary program where students are matched with an advocate to see what their goals are, what they want to gain from the college and what help they need. Then the advocate tries to connect the students with the right resources like financial aid, transportation and housing.
Participants in the advocacy program must meet with an advisor five times a semester to touch base.
© 2010, Capital News Service, Michigan State University School of Journalism. Not to be reproduced without permission.
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