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Learning soars as the economy dips

Many are looking to pursue higher levels of education to prepare for new job opportunities, replace obsolete skills, pursue a new career or just for professional enhancement. As a result, enrollment at public colleges and community colleges is soaring and many institutions are having a difficult time keeping up with the needs of students. 

This is not unusual and has occurred in other slowdowns in the economy – but not to the degree we are seeing today. Not only did people lose jobs, but tight credit markets, home foreclosures and other signs of the recession have made it even more important to pursue affordable education options. Community colleges like Suffolk County Community College on Long Island, NY, reported a 20 percent increase in applications for the next semester; and they do not see this peaking, but rather climbing.

Locally, we are seeing increases as well. Hudson Valley Community College has seen a 6.5 percent increase, Schenectady County Community College 8.1 percent and Fulton-Montgomery Community College experienced the biggest increase, 10.1 percent. Classes will surely be tighter and tougher to get into as well.

Looking at costs, one can see why community colleges – and public colleges – are so in-demand. According to The College Board, average annual tuition at a private, four-year school is $25,143; tuition at a public, four-year university is approximately $6,585. Community colleges in NYS costs less than $4,000 per year for resident students. And their programs, like most community colleges and public colleges in NYS, are ranked very high.

Dealing with the surge

To meet the demands of students, many colleges are turning to innovative scheduling, online programs and 24/7 access to some services, like computer labs where students can pursue independent study. Still, others are scheduling classes not only from 6pm-9pm, which is traditional for evening students, but another class from 9pm-midnight. One college is scheduling classes at 11:45pm. That’s burning the midnight oil for sure!

Those who are planning to enroll are urged to do so early, and pick their classes right away before they fill up. You may not get the exact schedule you want, but at least you will be able to get into a class. The most in-demand programs include nursing and allied health services, and will continue to be so as the demand for health care continues to rise. 

Making the right choices

Dr. Dean Skarlis, president and founder of The College Advisor of New York (www.collegeadvisorny.com) in Albany, stresses that careful planning and selection of the targeted college is very important. 

"It is so important that the student fit the college they are planning to attend from a cultural, academic, and of course, financial perspective. In many cases, without careful planning, one can transfer to a four-year school after community college and not be successful. The savings for the first two years can erode if the wrong selection is made." 

Dr. Skarlis recommends how to pick a great college – and probably pay less. 

"Look for the colleges that you, as the student, are most desirable for. Colleges recruit and try to attract students that match their academic or cultural programs and oftentimes, they will provide better aid or scholarships." 

He also recommends looking at the lower visibility colleges that have exceptional programs, are usually less expensive and may also provide more incentives to attend. 

Online learning 

While enrollment at community and public colleges is soaring, online learning enrollments are still growing at approximately 13 percent per year, but not as fast as campus learning. Still, for a motivated student who wants to pursue an associate, bachelors, masters or even a PhD, it is possible through the hundreds of offerings from accredited universities that have created and deployed online learning programs. Some require a residence once a year for a week or so, others do not. 

You just need to be careful in selecting a program to be sure it is fully accredited and supported by faculty resources. An excellent site to find programs is www.educationdegreesource.com. Right here in New York State, most of the SUNY campuses have an online study program, both on the community college and four-year college level. There are also certificate programs in special areas that can be completed online, with usually a test at the end from credentialing.

Excelsior College in Albany (www.excelsior.edu) is one of the nation’s leaders in online educational programming. Their programs include health services, nursing, liberal arts, business and technology, and they also have a complete catalog of professional development courses that range from construction to video game development and plenty in between. Excelsior College is noted nationally for their military education programs, providing online learning opportunities for those serving our country around the world and in the US.

In my research, I found those who were disenchanted with online learning were so because either the assigned faculty was not as assessable or the school’s technology wasn’t up to date.

Planning ahead, being flexible, evaluating options between distance (online) learning and the classroom and carefully choosing your college are important tips in making your educational experience the best it can be.

Dan Moran is president & founder of Next-Act, a career management & transition firm located in Colonie. You can reach him at 641.8968 or dmoran@next-act.com or visit www.next-act.com.

 

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