Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Community College Enrollments Up

Today's Oregon Labor Trends feature serves as a great follow up to our statewide news post from yesterday.

Longer lines, fewer open parking spaces, and difficulty getting into classes are just a few consequence of the increased number of students attending community colleges. Going into the Great Recession, enrollments were steady at Oregon's 17 community colleges. In 2008, colleges saw an 11 percent increase, and 2009 brought 16 percent growth. Although 2010-2011 data is not yet available, there are no indications that enrollment dropped off.

During the 2009-2010 college year, Oregon community colleges served 384,259 students, up from 330,595 in 2003-2004, but lower than the peak in 2001-2002 of 406,434.

This significant increase coupled with budgetary issues certainly challenged colleges around the state. Many classrooms are bursting at the seams, classes fill in a matter of hours at some community colleges, and some are having difficulty finding qualified instructors to increase class offerings. Oregon is not alone. In the fall of 2010, a Pearson Foundation survey of U.S. community college students found that nearly one-fifth of students had a difficult time enrolling in courses because they were full.

Along with enrollments, costs are on the rise. Since 2003, community college tuition and fees rose by one-third for in-district students, ranging from about $3,300 to $4,300 in 2010-2011. This compares with $6,700 to $8,200 at most of Oregon's public universities. OHSU tuition and fees are more than twice this amount. Independent colleges range from under $20,000 to $37,000 in 2010-2011. Of course, cost saving at a community college will change if students get a bad grade, or take the wrong classes, which will take time and money to make up.

So, is it all worth it? Weighing the costs with the potential benefits will show the worth of higher education, but the key word here is "potential." Students will face an unknown job market, hoping to land a good paying job. The economy is struggling to get back to prerecession employment levels. College graduates will continue to fight an uphill battle until the economy recovers. Retirements of baby boomers will also help create job openings. But it will still come down to being in the right place with the right education at the right time.

Get more information about trends in Oregon's community colleges in the full article, written by Occupational Economist Brenda Turner.

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