MONROE - After graduating from high school, Jacob McLaughlin enrolled at Monroe County Community College.
The 19-year-old sophomore said the college's $67 charge per credit hour and the five-minute drive from his parent's home played a major role in his decision to attend the community college.
"I chose MCCC because it's close to home and their classes are cheaper," said Mr. McLaughlin, 19.
The 2008 Monroe High School graduate lives at home with his parents in Monroe.
"I don't have to pay rent and other expenses such as utilities and groceries," he said.
A mixture of high school graduates and older adults returning to school has boosted MCCC's enrollment by 2.4 percent to 4,624, up from 4,514 a year ago.
The enrollment for the fall semester is a record for the two-year community college, and the ninth consecutive increase.
Also, the college saw its ninth consecutive annual increase in credit hours being taken by students, reaching 41,838 hours, a nearly 7 percent rise from last year's 39,224 hours.
Joe Verkennes, community college spokesman, said there were across-the-board increases in student enrollment segments for the fall semester.
Students who are 21 years old or younger increased by 56 students, Monroe County residents jumped by 73 students, and full-time students - those taking more than 12 credit hours - increased by 200 students, up about 4 percent from a year ago.
"There are more students on campus and they are taking a lot more hours," Mr. Verkennes said.
President David Nixon said the record enrollment doesn't reflect the 4,000 to 5,000 students taking certificate-type training programs.
"Community colleges are beacons of hope in these dark economic times. Students are coming to us to chart a course for their future through higher education," Mr. Nixon said in a statement.
Mr. McLaughlin, who is studying political science in hopes of some day getting elected to office, said going to the community college allows him to save money before transferring to a four-year school.
"Cost was the biggest factor," he said, adding that he was awarded two academic scholarships. "This is a steppingstone in my career path. I enjoy my classes. The faculty is great. They are definitely there for you."
Fall semester classes began Aug. 27.
MCCC charges $67 a credit hour for students who live in Monroe County, $115 for Michigan residents who live outside the county, and $128 for out-of-state students.
Historically, community colleges offer work force training and provide associate degrees so students can transfer to universities.
Brittani Peterson, who is a 2008 Jefferson High School graduate, is among those community college students planning to transfer to a four-year program after she obtains an associate degree in nursing.
"I like taking classes here because the classes here are smaller, compared to a bigger university," she said.
Mr. Verkennes said the lousy economy and displaced workers in the auto industry going back to school for new training likely figured in the enrollment spike.
Community colleges in Michigan were given money to create training programs for companies that are adding new jobs or for new businesses coming into the state through the state's No Worker Left Behind initiative.
Enrollment at two-year schools in Ohio and Michigan has swelled this fall.
According to the Michigan Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions, the 18 community colleges in the state had enrollment increases ranging from 1.6 percent at Alpena to 20 percent at Wayne County.
In Ohio, Owens College's fall enrollment jumped 10.8 percent from last year to 23,606 students, and Columbus State Community College hit a enrollment record of 28,710 students, about 4,300 more than last year.
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