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Recession A Major Reason, School's President Says

August 23, 2009|By John-John Williams IV | John-John Williams IV,

Nathan Carriere, a recent Wilde Lake High School graduate, originally wanted to go to a college that would allow him to leave home and be on his own. But he quickly realized that this freedom came with a big cost.

Carriere decided to save money and ease his parents' angst. He's going to Howard Community College.

"It's $8,000 for tuition at four-year colleges," said Carriere, who wants to major in premedicine. "I'm only paying $2,000 here. I'm also saving time with the commuting. It's also less stress for [my parents] with me not being away from home."

Carriere, 18, is among the 8,100 incoming freshmen at Howard Community College this fall. Several hundred new students went to the school Wednesday to participate in new-student orientation. There, they were able to get a better idea of the school as they met with student leaders and learned more about their majors.

Enrollment for the fall is up 13 percent, according to officials. The recession is a major cause for the increase in enrollment, according to the college's president, Kathleen Hetherington. As a result of the economic troubles, recent high school graduates and members of the work force are enrolling in community colleges, she added.

"Some people are coming here to get more skills so that they can hold onto their job," Hetherington said. "Others are preparing themselves if they get laid off.

"It's not like there are a lot of jobs," Hetherington said. "And [students] realize that they need an education to get a job."

The recession is being felt in other ways at Howard Community College as well. More students are applying for financial aid. In fact, the school has seen an increase of 27 percent in aid requests. In addition, there has been a 17 percent increase in the number of loans students are seeking. Overall, 35 percent of the students at the school are on some form of financial aid, which is a 3 percent increase from last year.

The largest concentration of students (20 percent) will be enrolled in the nursing program, according to Hetherington.

"Our students see [nursing] as a recession-proof job," Hetherington said.

The nursing program is so popular that there are 196 people on the waiting list to get into the program, according to Hetherington.

Business, computers and education are also popular majors.

Alysia Grassl, 18, of Ellicott City wants to eventually pursue an accounting degree at the University Maryland, College Park. She plans on using Howard Community College's James W. Rouse Scholars Program, an accelerated program for advanced students, as a way to improve her resume. In addition to a rigorous course load, the students work with staff who prepare them to make the transition to four-year schools.

"It really makes sense to me," she said. "I took courses here in high school. I got interested in the Rouse program. A few people said it is the best option."

With the influx of new students, school officials said the orientation was key.

"Students are able to get the information that they need," said Cindy Peterka, vice president of student services. "They are going to be able to connect with the campus and become more successful."

That is exactly why Carriere attended the orientation.

"The school has changed a lot since my mom went here," he said. "I wanted to learn the layout of the campus. It looks really nice."

By the numbers

13% increase in enrollment 27% increase in aid requests 17% increase in the number of loans students are seeking 3% increase in number of students on financial aid

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