By Jenean Zahran
Collegiate Staff Writer
When you walk into a classroom at Grand Rapids Community College, it is more diversified than your average college. Around the country, the number of students that attend community colleges has gone up. It is not uncommon to see someone over forty going back to school to obtain a degree they never got when they were younger.
Due to Michigan’s economy and job losses, we are seeing a significant increase in the amount of students that attend Grand Rapids Community College. Our current winter semester set a new record high with a headcount of 18,142 students, which is about a 5.12% increase from the fall semester 2010.
Looking back at the 2010 fall semester, about thirty-six percent of the students were over the age of twenty-five. These students, also known as non-traditional students, have either never been to college or have been to college and had to stop their education due to personal or financial reasons.
Jeff Darling, a non-traditional student here at GRCC, has felt the affects of being laid off and has decided to come back and attend college.
“I had attended college when I was younger in 1970 for two semesters. I then left and went into the air force because it was during Vietnam.”
After working in wood business for 29 years, he has decided to follow his dream and go back to school. “I want to go into writing. Science writing. So right now I’m taking a lot of science and writing classes,” Darling says.
Bruné Garcia, an enrollment specialist here at GRCC says, “I see a lot of older people in their fifties and sixties come up to me saying that they had their job for years and got laid off. Going back to school and getting a degree seems to be the only way for them to get a better job.”
According to the GRCC fall 2010 enrollment report, the biggest percentage increase of students attending GRCC, just over 10%, was in the fall semester of 2009 right after the economic crisis of 2008. In 2009, Michigan had the highest unemployment rate in the country.
Believe it or not, you are able to find a legitimate job with an associate’s degree. Many jobs that call for an associate’s degree have starting salaries of over $59,000 annually. Some of these jobs include physical therapist assistant, dental assistants, radiologic technologists, or a computer specialist. We have a variety of associate degree programs here at GRCC, including health programs. They offer programs for dental hygiene, registered nursing, occupational therapy assistant, and radiologic technology.
Many would think some are not able to afford tuition, so enrollment in college should be down. These days, we have so many different options to help get our tuition paid for; it doesn’t seem to be affecting people at all.
“I don’t see tuition costs affecting too many people right now. Financial aid and loans help a lot. We also have the fast payment plan we can get set up for people,” Garcia says.
The payment plan is very simple and easy to sign up for. When signed up for the semester, your payments will be automatically deducted from you back account or credit card. The nice thing about this is you do not have to waste your time writing and mailing checks, and you can view your account online.
Not only has the percentage of non-traditional students gone up, but dual-enrolled high school students have gone up as well here at GRCC. The number of early college students in the fall 2010 semester was 374, up significantly from 258 students in 2009. Angela Carpenter, a senior at Comstock Park High School, is one of those students.
“I have already taken the highest English class in my high school, and I needed another English class for this semester so I decided to take Writing for Publication here at GRCC because my school pays for it,” Carpenter says.
When asked if she enjoyed her experience here, Carpenter says, “Yes. I really like it here. I would definitely recommend it to other people. In fact, I already have.”
Many people choose to attend a community college because it is generally high quality education that’s not too costly, and close to home. Or in Angela’s case, because her school funds the classes for her and it accelerates her path on getting her bachelor’s. Grand Rapids Community College’s headcount still continues to rise, and that may not be changing anytime soon.
Source : Fall 2010 Enrollment Report http://www.grcc.edu/files/ddevries/Fall_2010_BOT_Enrollment_Report.pdf