More and more Century College students are like Joyce Kennedy.
For several years, the 51-year-old grandmother from Marine on St. Croix had mulled going back to school. Then she was laid off from her graphic design job. She enrolled at Century a few weeks later and is studying to become a medical assistant.
The halls at Century were especially crowded last week as students returned for spring semester. And, like Kennedy, a growing proportion of them aren’t the traditional teenage recent high-school graduates.
Spring semester figures are still unofficial, but Century officials are estimating a 5 percent enrollment increase for the year. Spring enrollment is up between 6 and 8 percent, according to the early estimates. Enrollment of students 25 and older jumped approximately 12 percent spring semester.
Statewide average enrollment in public colleges and universities increased 2.9 percent this fall (second semester data isn’t yet available), according to Minnesota State Colleges and Universities. The community and technical colleges saw the greatest increase: 3.7 percent, while the four-year universities grew 1.5 percent.
Acting President John O’Brien said the economic slowdown certainly is a factor in the record enrollment growth at Century College. While layoffs and lack of job opportunities are leading more older adults into the classrooms, more traditional-aged students are choosing community colleges over more expensive four-year universities.
According to Minnesota State Colleges and Universities, tuition and fees for a full-time student this year is $4,565 at Century College, compared to between $5,500 and $6,800 at state universities, $10,000 or more at University of Minnesota campuses and up to nearly $37,000 at private institutions.
“I don’t want to spend $20,000 when I can do it here for $2,000,” said Century student Stayce Petraborg, 18, of Mahtomedi. She attended Century last year through the post secondary enrollment option and chose to return to Century after graduating from Forest Lake High School.
Approximately a third of Century students complete technical, health and other certificates.
Daryl Kaufman, a 27-year-old single mother from Hugo, is in the medical assistant program with Kennedy. She also looked into Globe University and found it cost twice as much to complete the program there.
The majority of Century students take general classes. Some, like Mary Weschler, a recent White Bear Lake Area High School graduate, haven’t yet settled on a career path and hope taking a variety of lower-cost classes at Century will help them decide.
Others, like Ben Olson, a first-year student from Mahtomedi, have decided their future. He said he opted to start at Century because it’s relatively inexpensive and close to home, and he intends to later transfer to a four-year institution.
Century’s mission historically was to provide a higher education opportunity to people of all backgrounds, O’Brien said. In recent years, that mission has expanded “beyond access” to also ensuring “student success”. Efforts to that end, including student retention and engagement initiatives, as well as more alternative schedules, also are contributors to the enrollment growth, O’Brien said.
New supportive resources, such as the Veterans Club and award-winning, goal-setting GPS Lifeplan initiative, have reduced dropout rates. More online and evening courses also are allowing more people who are fortunate enough to have a job to attend college in their off hours.
As enrollment continues to rise, the college will look to more such alternative offerings so building capacity won’t limit the growth.
“The last thing we ever want is to turn anyone away,” O’Brien said. source