Junior College Squeeze
Community colleges across the country are seeing enrollment climb just as local governments scale back funding.

Caitlin McDevitt, Newsweek Web Exclusive
December 15, 2008

Eighteen-year-old Jenna Tibbitts has a near-perfect GPA, and her parents can afford to send her to the four-year university of her choice. But the New Jersey senior is opting instead to attend nearby Atlantic Cape Community College on a scholarship for two years before transferring to a four-year school so that she can reduce the overall cost of her education. "It just makes more sense," Tibbitts says.

Similarly, Sarah Tibbling, 18, an honor student from Vernon, N.J., plans to attend Sussex County Community College next fall, a move she sees as a stepping-stone on the way to getting her degree at a four-year institution. "[Community college is] more popular with students these days," she says, and that's reduced some of the negative stigma. "It's no longer considered a place for lower-level students."

Like Tibbling and Tibbitts, high-achieving high-school graduates nationwide are increasingly putting four-year institutions on hold and enrolling at community colleges for part of their education. According to a survey from the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities, nearly one-fifth of private colleges and universities reported a smaller than anticipated freshman class this fall. At the same time, the American Association of Community Colleges reports that community-college enrollment rose 8 to 10 percent. That's not unexpected—community-college enrollment usually climbs during a down economy as newly unemployed workers look to get additional training. But normally, the age of the average student rises, whereas this time around, the average age on campus has remained low because there are so many more traditional-aged students, say administrators. "The segment of fresh high-school graduates is growing fast," says Anson Smith, public relations coordinator for Housatonic Community College in Bridgeport, Conn.