Enrollment is setting records at Jackson Community College. The Campus is bustling with a record number of students for the fall semester. There are nearly 1,100 more bodies on campus this year for an increase of 16-percent in the total student body from 2008. The increase is at nearly 37-percent from just five years ago.
The new crop of students includes 46-year-old Frank Smith of Bronson, Michigan. He says, "The company I was working for downsized after 8 1/2 years working in a factory, there's no jobs out there." Now Frank is getting an associates degree in the auto mechanics program. He's part of a growing trend of students heading back to school through the No Worker Left Behind Act. Frank says, "Without it, I wouldn't be able to afford college."
Jackson Community College Executive Director of Community Relations Cindy Allen says, "We're retraining a number of people who have probably been in the fields they were currently in for the last 15 years and never thought at this point in their life they were going to have to find another career." That's one reason why the enrollment numbers for students 30-years and older are up at JCC a record 32%. Meanwhile, Allen says Jackson County's unemployment rate of more than 15% is also driving the trend. Allen says, "Certainly the unemployment rate is contributing to our school's success." She says the school is humbled that students are choosing to turn to JCC in troubled times.
Michigan Community College Association President Mike Hansen says traditional student numbers are up as well statewide. He says freshman are choosing community colleges to save in tight times.
When it comes to JCC, Allen says, "Our tuition, compared to a 4-year school is an amazing value."
Another way that the community colleges have grown is online. At JCC, close to 2,000 students are taking classes over the Internet this semester. Allen says, "One of our fastest growing areas as with many schools is our online program. People out of state are taking JCC classes."
While increasing enrollment can be attributed to the economy, Smith says it's also due to a change in attitude about age and education. He says, "I was surprised to see how many older people are coming back into the job market, I thought I'd be the oldest person here when I came back. Surprisingly that's not the case."
Lansing Community College experienced an increase in their student population as well. It's up 8% from this time last year.