Universities community colleges log more students

November 17, 2008
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LANSING — Many Michigan colleges are reporting an increase in admissions, in part reflecting a growing belief in the need for higher education.

Northwestern Michigan College, located in Traverse City, is projecting 2,365 new students for fall 2009, up from 2,313 this fall and 2,299 in 2007.

Jim Bensley, the college’s director of admissions, attributes the 5-8 percent growth in annual admissions over the last five years to the state’s slumping economy.

“More students are realizing that the more education you have, the better your chances of securing a position in a tough economy,” he said. “People want to retrain. They want to go to school so they can prepare for the limited amount of jobs that are out there.”

According to the Department of Labor & Economic Growth, there were 40,611 first-time students enrolled in community colleges in the fall of 2007, up from the 31,602 enrolled seven years earlier. 

Like NMC, most of the state’s 28 community colleges reported an increase in admissions this fall, according to the Michigan Association of Community Colleges. One that didn’t, Alpena Community College, had eight fewer students than last year. But overall, its enrollment has increased about 11 percent over the last four years, according to its director of admissions, Mike Kollien, despite some of the smallest high school graduating classes ever in that area.

More students are sticking closer to home for college, where costs can be significantly lower than going away to a larger university, he added.

But large public universities like Michigan State University are receiving more applications than usual, as well.

MSU got 25,632 applications for this fall, up 17 percent from 2005. However, it tries to maintain a steady number of 7,200 to 7,300 acceptances, said its director of admissions, Jim Cotter.

Part of the reason for the increase, he said, is a peak in the number of high school graduates in the state this year, a figure expected to drop over the next 10 years.

“Last year was one of the largest graduating classes in the history of Michigan,” he said. 

Students are also under more pressure to seek college degrees, including those who are the first in their families to enroll in college, Cotter added. 

“About 27 percent of the students that showed up in our freshman class were first-generation.”

Higher core curriculum requirements and increased amounts of available financial aid, like the Michigan Merit Award, also help the state better prepare high school students for college, Cotter said.

More students are realizing you can’t survive without a four-year degree, said Michael Boulus, executive director of the President’s Council, State Universities of Michigan. The organization represents all 15 public universities of Michigan.

“The growth is a tribute to the knowledge-based economy,” he said. “Manufacturing is on the decline.”

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