Community Colleges See Enrollment Spike; Late-Night Classes Fill Demand

Article excerpt

Byline: Andrea Billups, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

At Boston's Bunker Hill Community College, students and professors will be burning the midnight oil. Literally.

Starting this fall, students have the option of enrolling in entry-level English and psychology classes that will be offered by Massachusetts' largest community college from 11:45 p.m. to 2:30 a.m. So far, the reception for the wee-hour courses has been good, allowing those nontraditional and working students to get the classes they need and fit them into a demanding schedule.

We've got a lot of night owls, jokes Bunker Hill spokeswoman Colleen Roach. And we're offering free coffee.

Adds instructor Wick Sloane, who volunteered along with professor Kathleen O'Neill to teach the late-night sessions: I'll wait until the weekend to crash. It's going to be like pulling an all-nighter, but I'll expect these students to come ready and excited to learn.

Across the country, the nation's 1,195 community colleges are seeing a spike in enrollment, owing in no small part to the sagging economy. Families and students who once thought a four-year residential college was a certain - and affordable - option have been forced in the recession to consider two-year schools as a more frugal way to enter higher education.

Community colleges have always been a good value, and right now that is particularly so because people are accounting for their dollars very closely, says Norma Kent, spokeswoman for the Washington, D.C.-based American Association of Community Colleges.

Historically, when the economy is down, enrollment tends to go up. But because this downturn has been so protracted and so dramatic, our enrollments are extremely high, and that is likely to continue for some time, she said.

Initial reports from member schools have shown enrollment increases from 4 percent to 26 percent over the last year, she said.

Community colleges nationwide enrolled 11.5 million students, about 46 percent of all U.S. undergraduates, according to the most recent national AACC figures from January 2008. Average yearly tuition and fees at public community colleges for the 2007-08 academic year totaled $2,361, compared with $6,185 at four-year public universities and $23,172 at private four-year schools.

For many people, they are the best hope and for some, the only hope, said Ms. Kent, noting that many schools are going the distance to make room for the influx of new students by increasing class sizes, hiring more instructors, partnering with local businesses for support and even offering late-night classes to take up the slack.

At Coastal Carolina Community College in Jacksonville, N.C., the line to register for fall classes began at 7:15 a.m. last week, before the start of business hours, and quickly spilled out around the side of the building as students rose early and raced to get coveted slots.

Colette B. Teachey, executive director of the school's foundation and its spokeswoman, said the student count at Coastal Carolina, which serves a large number of military families because of its proximity to such military sites as Marine Corps base Camp Lejeune, has risen from 6,559 students in the 2007-08 school year to 7,109 in 2008-09. Also on the upswing: 33 percent more students there are receiving financial aid this year.

It's been rocking and rolling for the past month, she said of enrollment growth, which she said makes the school more competitive for serious students.

Like many community colleges, we have an open-door policy, she said. We are facing very real financial challenges, but I think community colleges are best situated and motivated to meet those challenges. We've always operated on a shoestring budget.

Acknowledging that state support for higher education is diminishing despite the need to retrain the work force for a new generations of jobs, President Obama last month announced a $12 billion aid package geared to bolstering the economy by allowing more people to seek a community college education. …