A surge of adults are enrolling in career colleges and two-year community colleges to hone their workplace skills, as the state and nation cope with the toughest recession in decades.
Enrollment in Alabama’s Community College System hit a five-year high of 84,207 this spring, figures released Monday show. Also Virginia College in Birmingham and Herzing University, two private vocational colleges, reported 35 percent and 25 percent jumps, respectively in new students compared with a year ago.
Blame it on the economy, which saw Alabama’s unemployment rate hit a near 22-year high of 7.8 percent in January, according to state figures released last week. Keivan Deravi, an economist with Auburn University in Montgomery, said it is common for laid-off workers and even currently employed people to return to college in down economies.
"In periods of recession like this, people try to boost their skills and become more attractive to employers," Deravi said.
Jo Ann Wilson, president of Virginia College’s Birmingham campus, said many students say they are seeking to remain viable in today’s economy that has seen massive job losses in sectors such as real estate and finance.
"What we’re hearing from students is the need for a career change," Wilson said.
Virginia College last fall began the process of moving its campus from Bagby Drive to Birmingham’s Palisades shopping center just off Valley Avenue. The college spent $8 million to convert the Palisades campus, which will be completed this fall.
Virginia College’s enrollment across its 10 Southeastern campuses grew 50 percent, said Vincent Femia, director of admissions. The classes getting the most interest in Birmingham are registered nurse and cosmetology programs, both of which start in April, followed by medical assistance and pharmacy tech.
"Basically, what we are seeing is an influx of folks moving towards our allied health programs so that they can be retrained in a career-focused, hands-on environment which will get them out working in the field as quickly as possible," Femia said.
Herzing University on West Valley Avenue last week changed its name from Herzing College as it added new master’s degrees in management, technology and health care in response to growing demand.
"The number of students and telephone calls we’ve received has been increasing over the past 12 to 18 months as the economy worsened," said Don Lewis, president of the Birmingham campus.