Community college an alternative in harsh recession
04/10/2009, 6:32 am
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Javier Rosario landed the ultimate dream job at MTV shortly after graduating from Brooklyn College. Rosario had it set, a life-long career he was passionate about. But several camera rolls and a couple splices later, the 24-year old found himself out of a job. In the following months, he set out to find a more stable income, but came back with only one firm resolution in mind: a higher salary would mean more education.

“Honestly, you don’t need school for this film stuff, you know?” Rosario said. The following fall, he enrolled at Kingsborough Community College to jumpstart a new career. The deepening recession has sent many students, like Rosario, to seek refuge at two-year colleges near home.

CUNY’s University Applications Processing Center (UAPC), saw an overwhelming increase in applications for its community colleges this spring. The Center asked the six colleges to set individual deadlines on accepting applications. On the surface, CUNY is bucking the trend of a worsening economy. However, like most community colleges, they have an open admissions policy, meaning anyone with a GED, completed application form and admissions fee is guaranteed admission. “Now, we will have to limit the amount of sections available,” Cliff Wood, treasurer of the NACCTEP said

UAPC says that application statistics for the spring have not been released yet. But the National Association of Community College Teacher Education Programs (NACCTEP) says they are starting to see an average of five to seven percent increase in community college enrollment numbers across the nation.

There are currently more than 6.5 million students enrolled in community colleges nationwide. According to the American Association of Community Colleges (AACC), this is nearly half of the undergraduate population in the U.S. The surge in enrollment comes mainly from transfer students and the unemployed. “Reverse transfers” are students who transfer back from four-year colleges, mainly because they find community college a more affordable alternative. According to College Board, the average tuition for public two-year colleges nationwide is $2,402, in 2008-09. While the average for that of private 4-year institutions is $25,143. Among other new students are laid-off workers using community college as a platform to sharpen up the resume or switch careers.

CUNY’s open admissions policy, established in 1970, has been at the heart of its academic mission. The policy strives to provide an equal education opportunity for students seeking higher education. “We pride ourselves in affordability and accessibility” Woods said. Sixty-two percent of students at the six colleges come from a household with a yearly income of less than $30,000.

Denial of a spot at community college could ultimately mean cutting off their only opportunity of getting a higher education. Before the setting of strict deadlines, the community colleges would usually receive applications through the end of December and early February. Admission to the colleges is not screened by individual merit, but given at a first come, first serve basis. Having to turn away students would undermine the open admission policy’s long standing tradition.

At Kingsborough, Rosario has enrolled himself in an array of science courses, such as chemistry and physics, in hopes to some day transfer to a senior college and become a mechanical engineer. He gives off a sense of raw enthusiasm that you would only expect to find in college freshmen. “I’m going where the money is going,” he says, putting one hand over his chest.

Many students seem to see the recession as a chance to reflect on their goals. “Well, in a way the [economy] makes you more practical.” Sarah Lampke, a recent graduate at Tompkins Courtland Community College concluded.

Lampke, who originally intended to pursue art therapy after her transfer to a senior college, is now considering psychology as an alternative. The recent graduate was sitting next to her mother and sister, a senior in high school, who is also planning to enroll in Community College next fall.

“I think [the increase] will affect the middle class the most.” Sarah said, looking at her sister and mother, “Those people who won’t get financial aid, and who can’t quite pay for tuition. So it might trickle down, to where kids who might have gone [to Community College], won’t go now. But that’s going to be really hard to measure.”

However, administration says that the capping of applications does not mean an end to the open admissions policy. The schools will continue to accept all students that meet application requirements. “The only thing this affects is the classes,” Davis said. “Anyone applying late could end up with a part time schedule, because the classes they need are full.” He noted that some of the more hard-hit programs includes nursing, where the student – faculty ratio is low.

Rosario remains fixated on his goal of becoming a mechanical engineer. He considers community college a necessary detour before he joins the ranks of the employed again. “Community college … it’s just a joke. It’s really just for people who want to brush up on certain subjects” Rosario said, laughing. He tugged at one of the straps of his backpack, anxious to head to his next class. “There was some 600 people laid off from MTV” Rosario said. “But I’ll be here for now.”


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