Growth Spurt Reverses at Local Community Colleges

History shows that community college enrollment skyrockets when the economy tanks.

That’s never been more true than over the past few years, as students across Illinois flooded their local campuses in record numbers.

This fall semester, however, school officials are reporting flat and even declining enrollment compared to last year, even though the already anemic economic recovery appears to be fading.

"We’re not sure what’s going on exactly," College of Lake County spokeswoman Evelyn Schiele said. "There are some theories on the table."

One of those theories shared by officials at several suburban community colleges is that students can’t afford not to work, so people don’t have as much surplus time for classes. Even formerly unemployed adult learners who initially sought out school for a career change or additional training may not have the money to pay tuition, instead opting to take jobs for which they’re overqualified, officials said.

“Community colleges continue to be the best value in town, but if it’s the difference between paying an electricity bill and taking classes, people have to prioritize,” said Jim Bente, College of DuPage vice president of planning and institutional effectiveness.

Despite their value, especially compared to four-year institutions, officials acknowledge rising tuition costs. Students at all seven area schools are paying at least $15 more per credit hour this fall compared to 2006, and much more than that at some places.

“Tuition has gone up a bit, so we’re asking have we hit a price point?” Schiele said.

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