By TRENTON JOHNSON
Capital News Service
LANSING — Enrollment rates at some Michigan community colleges in the northern Lower Peninsula are increasing as the economy is in a downward spiral, experts say.
Michael Hansen, president of the Michigan Community College Association, said, “Rates are going up because it’s cheaper for people to come to them as opposed to a four-year college.”
Those with steady or rising enrollments this fall include Kirtland Community College in Roscommon, Alpena Community College, North Central Michigan College in Petoskey and Northwestern Michigan College in Traverse City. Reasons for the trend vary, officials say.
Tonya Clayton, admissions specialist at Kirtland, said, “People watch how much money they spend. It’s much cheaper to attend a two-year school than a four-year school.”
Clayton said enrollment at Kirtland has stayed steady for the past two years.
Going to a community college has benefits such as location and general education courses, proponents say.
Mike Kollien, admissions director at Alpena, said, “Community colleges are closer to home. They also have smaller classes. It’s also a good place for people to get core class credits.
“It also prepares them for going to a four-year college if they choose to,” Kollien said.
Young adults are not the only people who attend community college: Older adults are going as well.
Charlie MacInnis, director of public relations at North Central Michigan College, said, “People are getting laid off and they turn to college to prepare them for a different career path.
The core classes give them a chance to figure out what they want to do if they haven’t chosen a new career. “It provides people with new skills they didn’t have before,” he said.
One main reason community colleges are attractive is affordability, MacInnis said.
MacInnis said that enrollment rates at North Central rose 4 percent from last year to a record high this year.
Hansen, of the Community College Association, also said students are being admitted with more academic shortcomings than in the past, and eight out of 10 students need remedial math or writing classes.
Hansen said the colleges are offering new programs to attract students. One is the Michigan New Jobs program that allows colleges to borrow money in exchange for training workers. The loans are repaid through income taxes paid by graduates of the programs.
Hansen pointed to legislation being considered to allow community college students to earn a four-year degree in majors such as culinary arts, cement technology, maritime technology, nursing and nuclear technology.
The increase in community college enrollment rates while the economy is down raises a question, however: What will happen when Michigan’s economy picks up?
Hansen said if the economy recovers, there might be a labor shortage. Also, the state’s population is decreasing because people are moving elsewhere. Therefore, an improvement in the economy might have a negative impact on enrollment.
At the same time, Hansen added, the “new norm” could be that job applicants will need an associate’s degree to compete in the entry-level labor market. If that’s the case, it will keep enrollment up.