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2012 October 29 - 12:00 am

TRACKING TRENDS : Community College Enrollment Dip Sparks Concerns

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Slowing enrollment at Ivy Tech and other community colleges across the nation is fueling worries that efforts to increase the number of adults with college degrees will falter at a time when the economy and businesses most need a skilled workforce.

According to the American Association of Community Colleges, many community colleges nationwide are seeing enrollment declines of 3 percent to 5 percent. That’s a troubling sign for those who have been trying to increase the percentage of adults with postsecondary degrees by boosting enrollment at community colleges.

“Community colleges have always been the most affordable option for college, and if people in this recession have reached the point where they can’t even afford community college, it should be worrisome for the nation,” said Norma Kent, the association’s senior vice president of communications. “Employers are already saying, ‘I can’t find the workers that I need.’”

The decline stems in part from a drop in the number of high school graduates. That number peaked nationally in 2009 at more than 3.3 million but has fallen since then. At the same time, the flood of adults returning to school between 2009 and 2011 because of the recession has begun to ebb at many schools.

But a bigger problem for all colleges is that their costs have soared. Nearly every public college in Indiana has seen tuition and fees more than double since 2000. Ivy Tech’s tuition and fees are up 74 percent since 2000.

“Higher education has priced itself out of the market,” Ivy Tech President Tom Snyder told the Indianapolis Business Journal.

Teresa Lubbers, Indiana’s commissioner of higher education, said the rising tuition rates have put Indiana on a path “that’s not sustainable.” State leaders have urged public colleges and universities to limit their tuition increases, and now parents and students are exerting a similar pressure, she said.

“Increasing numbers of students and families are making decisions based on value. This is especially true for the middle class,” Lubbers said. “They’re making decisions more based on cost than they have in the past.”

Ivy Tech’s enrollment is down 5 percent from last year’s level, but it could have been worse. The school launched a $1 million marketing campaign stressing the school’s affordability after applications in June fell 15 percent below the same time last year.

Snyder and his staff at Ivy Tech touted the school’s costs during the campaign that featured the slogan “Graduate in the Green, Not in the Red.” The ads compared Ivy Tech’s average annual tuition of $3,334 per student with the more than $12,000 it claimed students pay at an average college.

Snyder is quick to note that students can cut the cost of a bachelor’s degree by starting at Ivy Tech for two years, then transferring to a satellite campus of one of the state’s major universities to complete their degree.

That plan would cost an average of $19,500 in tuition and fees over four years, compared with an average of $38,000 for four years at the main campuses of Purdue University and Indiana University, he says.

Ivy Tech student Elisa Muir is eager to see those savings.

Muir, 41, decided to pursue a nursing degree after losing her job at health insurer Aetna Inc. She hopes to earn an associate degree from Ivy Tech, then get her bachelor’s degree at the Indiana University School of Nursing.

“I did seriously consider IU, and then also Indiana Wesleyan,” Muir said. “But some of the things you have to do or classes you have to take, it would have cost me more. Also, it took me a little longer to complete. Ivy Tech, it’s affordable, but you can also see the light at the end of the tunnel.”

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