Housatonic Community College: Enrollment is up in down economy (click for online article)

Written by Marla Hoffman, Bridgeport News
Tuesday, 01 December 2009 22:53

Housatonic Community College heads into the winter season with a new vibrancy. The campus in downtown Bridgeport is bustling, class offerings are more diverse than ever, and the student population is surging.

Some say the down economy is the reason for the growth. Others cite the reasonably priced tuition behind the numbers. But everyone agrees the enhanced campus is drawing more students than ever.

The college posted a 10.4% increase in student enrollment for the fall semester over the same time last year.

“People are realizing more and more that in order to have the potential to attain a middle-class lifestyle, you must have a college education,” said college President Anita Gliniecki. “At Housatonic Community College we offer an affordable education, known for its quality.”

This year 5,609 students registered for fall classes, drawn from more than 11 area communities.

Bridgeport students comprise the largest group with 47% of the total population, followed by Stratford with 13.7%; Shelton with 6.6%; Milford with 6.2%; Trumbull with 5.8%; Fairfield with 4.3%; Monroe with 2.6%; Ansonia with 2.4%; Derby with 1.4%; Seymour with .9% and Easton with .4%. Another 8.9% come from communities outside the school’s main service district.
Gliniecki said many factors have attracted students to Housatonic from across the region, including the comparably low cost; the accessible location near Route 8, Route 25 and Interstate 95; the close proximity to the bus and train station, and the brand new Beacon Hall facility.

“The new building has doubled the size of our campus, allowing us to offer more courses and a wider selection to students,” Gliniecki said. “We had literally run out of space. This new building was critical for us.”

Gliniecki said many students choose HCC for their first few years, and then transfer with an associate’s degree to a four-year college or university.

“Our highest student population growth is in high school graduates who use HCC as their first choice institution, with the intention of transferring,” Gliniecki said. “They can transfer 100% of their credits, which will go toward earning their baccalaureate degree.”

Sophia Urbina of Stamford is a general studies major in her first semester, and plans to eventually transfer to a four-year college to study nursing. In her opinion, attending college is a must.

“If you are allowed to get an education, you should take advantage of it,” Urbina said. “It’s how you get further ahead in life.”

Returning student Jovanny Reyas of Bridgeport, who plans to study accounting, said the difficult job market has made it a necessity for young people to go to school.

“Nowadays it’s almost mandatory to get some sort of degree,” Reyas said. “The people most likely to keep their jobs are the ones with an education. It’s hard to find a job if you don’t have any skills.”

According to Gliniecki, HCC works with neighboring colleges and universities to encourage students to choose higher education.

Often, she said, the cost of an education ends up being less expensive for students who spend two years at HCC, and then transfer.

“Standard universities work out to be almost double the cost, in terms of tuition,” she said. “This is another big draw for many of our students who are struggling financially.”

Monroe resident Cristina Cusano, like Urbina, plans to transfer to a four-year school to study nursing.

“This is an inexpensive, good option for me,” Cusano said. “I see a lot of young people going here because the tuition is so reasonable. And a lot of people who got laid off are coming back to college and choosing HCC.”

According to Dean o f Students Avis Hendrickson, the student population at HCC is diverse, adding to the school’s appeal.

“Our students are exposed to working with others in different ethnic and cultural groups,” Hendrickson said. “That’s a plus when marketing for employment.”

The youngest student at HCC is 15, the oldest is 87, and the median age is 22. As for gender, 62.4% are women and 37.6% are men. The maximum class size is 30 students, but most are at 25.

“There is much more access to the professors and individual learning in this environment,” Gliniecki said.
Housatonic also offers a childcare center.

“Many parents take advantage of this because they want their children in an educational environment while they, too, are learning,” Gliniecki said.

Hendrickson described HCC as “a vibrant community. Our outreach has helped put college on the forefront of students’ minds in Bridgeport and the region, and it continues to grow.”

“And,” Gliniecki said, “it doesn’t hurt that the president of the United States is advocating for community colleges. There has been more recognition on the East Coast of the value of community colleges.”

According to Gliniecki, the main reason for the increase in students is glowing reviews from the students themselves.

“Word of mouth is still the number one variable,” she said. “An education at HCC worked for them, and they are telling others — whether it be their friends, children or grandchildren.”