The Less-Costly Way to College Students Turning to Community Schools as State Funds Wither; University Tuitions Rise
Malone, Tara, Daily Herald (Arlington Heights, IL)
Byline: Tara Malone Daily Herald Staff Writer
Emily Restis always knew she would go to college, but when it came time to choose a school, the recent high school graduate faced some daunting questions.
Where should she go?
How much will it cost?
Concerned by the rising expense of tuition at four-year universities across the state, Restis sought a more affordable option and enrolled at Elgin Community College.
"At one point, I had hoped to go to Northern Illinois University, but ECC is more in my price range," the 18-year-old Bartlett High School graduate said.
With ECC running $62 a credit hour, Restis will stay at home and pay $1,860 to cover her 30 credit hours of classes next year. That's expensive, but not nearly as costly as the $12,667 she would pay to live and go to class at Northern.
Lured by the financial savings a two-year school offers, Restis is one of a growing number of high school students who will attend community college in the fall rather than a state university.
At the Elgin college, credit class enrollment this fall is up 15.5 percent, bringing the tally to 4,797 students from 4,155 a year earlier.
Waubonsee Community College in Sugar Grove also reported a steady rise in students signing up for credit classes. Initial enrollments last fall indicated students took 57,922 credit hours, up 7.2 percent from 54,007 hours in fall 2001. Credit hours accrued at the Sugar Grove-based college during the year totaled 150,000.
At McHenry County College, the trend toward increasing enrollments continued. This spring, 2,698 full-time students enrolled at MCC, up 11 percent from 2,431 students a year earlier. Overall, the school records about 100,000 credit hours a year.
These local examples are not unique.
Across the state, enrollments at colleges are on the rise as the population of high school graduates swells and the embattled economy prompts many professionals to switch careers.
That said, student rosters at Illinois community colleges have grown faster than their four-year counterparts. Last year, students registering for classes at four-year colleges climbed 2.6 percent. Community college enrollments jumped 4.6 percent during the same period.
Officials cite the higher cost of a state university education as one reason.
"We're in an economic downturn, so people have less money and college is becoming more expensive," said Paul Hamborg, ECC's institutional research director.
In fact, tuition at both four-year and two-year colleges has been rising, largely because of the state's worsening financial crunch and waning levels of funding for public colleges.
But the cost of four-year schools grew more quickly than community colleges, which benefit from property tax revenue. …