MONROE - Monroe County Community College Registrar Paul Schmidt can't say for sure what's causing it, but his school and others like it are winning a popularity contest among those looking to better themselves through education.
The enrollment statistics for the college's winter semester jumped 5.1 percent in number of students enrolled and recorded a 5.9 percent increase in the number of credit hours being taken by students, records from Mr. Schmidt's office indicate.
The college enrolled 3,810 students, compared to a total of 3,624 for the same semester last year.
The number of credit hours jumped from 29,868 in 2003 to 31,632 this year. Both increases represent new second semester records for the college, which was founded in the late 1960s.
There are a wide variety of factors that might be responsible for the increase, Mr. Schmidt explained.
Enrollment at community colleges traditionally has surged whenever long economic slumps have forced workers to consider new careers and the additional training they must have to follow those new career paths.
“We're not alone,” Mr. Schmidt explained. “Community colleges are a great financial bargain for students.”
In addition, tuition at more traditional four-year institutions has been increasing each year at rates many times that of inflation, squeezing family budgets and forcing many to consider increasingly popular “2 + 2” programs that incorporate classes at lower-cost community colleges.
Of the 94 institutions of higher education in Michigan, MCCC ranks 91st in terms of cost, meaning it's the third cheapest diploma program in the state.
Tuition at the school costs $53 per credit hour, with a $4 per hour “technology” charge added on top of that figure.
That means a full-time student at MCCC, who was also a resident of the county, could expect to pay about $1,368 annually for their education, compared to $4,792 at the University of Toledo and as high as $7,485 for similar classes at the University of Michigan.
Owens Community College, located just south of Toledo, charges instate full-time tuition rates of $2,418 annually, and nearly double that for students from out-of-state.
Across the nation, community colleges are experiencing spikes in their enrollment, and even higher numbers may be on the way.
President Bush last week unveiled a $250 million initiative to increase the use of community colleges across the nation as effective places to carry out the retraining of unemployed or underemployed workers for jobs in “local high-growth industries.”
The plan, unveiled in his State of the Union Address, also sought an additional $33 million in funding for the Pell Grant program for college students.
The President's proposals must still be passed by Congress, however.