Will rising gas prices affect enrollment numbers?

Something’s gotta give. That’s what many Americans are thinking as they stand at gas pumps this summer, watching their gas tanks fill up and their wallets empty out.

According to the AAA, the national average for regular unleaded gas is $2.96 per gallon (as of July 17, 2006). With prices this high, many Americans are being forced to make sacrifices to afford the higher price of commuting.

In Woodland, Calif., it’s the Meals on Wheels program that’s taking a hit because of high gas prices. Volunteers can’t afford to pay for extra gas to fuel the vehicles they use to deliver food to seniors, reports Monica Krauth in her July 11 article in the Daily Democrat.

For others, the high cost of gas is forcing them to eliminate “extras,” like lengthy road trips to see family, brand-name products and even fresh produce. In his July 9 Associated Press article, Dave Carpenter explains that inflation and rising gas prices are putting strain on lower-income families.

Where does this leave blue collar workers who are pursuing a career college education? If these people are being forced to cut fresh fruit out of their diets just so they can afford the commute to work, will they be able to afford tuition at a career school?

Presently, that answer seems to be yes. Todd Rash, Vice President of Marketing for High-Tech Institute, Inc., said his schools haven’t experienced major issues because of rising gas prices since the majority of their students live near campus. However, if prices maintain their vertical movement, the school may have to make some changes, he said.

“If prices continue to go up, I imagine we’ll see an impact,” Rash said. “We’ve put in carpooling, but I think it would become more of an initiative in the future.”

For students who live far away from their school, gas prices could make them rethink their current living situation, said Frank Jennings, Executive Director of Texas Careers – Laredo. He said he thinks students in outlying areas would probably find housing closer to campus so they could afford an education without worrying about the high cost of commuting.

Another option for reducing fuel expenses for students is online coursework.

“I think that online is really going to start booming,” Rash said. “Right around 9/11 when people didn’t want to travel, we saw a boom in online education. I think people realize education is their pathway to improve their future and income. Online is the most convenient way to do that if they can’t afford gas.”

If Rash’s predictions are correct, career schools shouldn’t see much of a dip in their enrollments. They might, however, find themselves tackling new programs – whether it’s creating a carpooling program or beefing up their online offerings.

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