Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Community Colleges Up 10%

I’ve commented a couple of times about the many high school graduates who aren’t going to college this year because they don’t have the money. But that doesn’t mean college attendance is down. The number of college students is the highest ever seen, largely because, for so many people, getting a job is not an option.

It’s one of the stark statistics of the current job market: if you are out of work for at one full week, your chances of getting a job within the next 26 weeks are pretty low. Of course, if you’re just entering the job market, with no college degree and no experience, your prospects are even worse. And if you can’t work, you might as well use the time to study.

That’s part of the logic behind the surge in college attendance. Most colleges aren’t participating in the increase, though. While attendance at most colleges is about the same as last year, community college enrollment is up about 10 percent this year, and that’s from the already high level of last year.

Community colleges are more accessible than other colleges, especially for local students, and while the quality of education may be lower, that gap seems to be shrinking. In a wired world, if you really want to learn something, it doesn’t matter where you are — at least not as much as it used to.

The price gap between colleges, though, continues to grow, and the cost of transportation is a bigger factor than it was a few years ago. Even at community colleges, many of the students don’t have the money to take a full schedule of classes. Or they don’t have the time. If it’s a challenge to fit two classes into your weekly schedule, the time constraints would also rule out going to a more distant college. The original idea of community colleges was to make college available to people who weren’t ideally situated for college, and that objective, apparently, is just as important now.