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LRCC no exception to enrollment spike at community colleges

Lakes Region Community College Business and Office Technology Management Department Head Gail Thomas (Belmont) assists new LRCC Business Management students Lauren Lemay (Meredith - left), and Rachael Botelho (Center Sandwich) during the college’s orientation for business, accounting, and hospitality programs. The total number of new students that attended orientation at LRCC was 325; the previous high attendance had been 267. Courtesy photo. (click for larger version)
September 16, 2009
LAKES REGION — As more graduating high school seniors are seeking higher education and more adults are going back to school to learn new skills or trades, community colleges are boasting higher-than-ever enrollment numbers thanks to affordable classes and degree programs.

The first day of the fall semester at Lakes Region Community College saw 1,191 students on campus as compared to 1,026 on the first day last year, an increase of 16 percent.

"The Community College System of New Hampshire is experiencing significant student increases and LRCC is no exception," said LRCC President Dr. Mark Edelstein. "We are pleased to see such striking numbers."

"We had a record number of people come to orientation this summer," said Wayne Fraser, director of admissions at Lakes Region Community College. "A lot of it's related to the economy."

The total number of new students that attended orientation at LRCC was 325; the previous high attendance had been 267. The school's number of accepted students is at a 29 percent increase over last year, and as of two weeks ago, paid tuition deposits were ahead of last year by 34 percent.

Fraser cited two major reasons for increased interest in LRCC. The first, he said, is that because of the economy, people who have worked in one field for many years are being laid off and want to acquire new skills or learn a whole new trade.

"We're a great option for now-displaced workers (looking to) start a new career," Fraser said.

The second is that more high school graduates, in this economic client, see the need to go to college rather than try to find a job where there are so few. The fact that community college is significantly less expensive than universities and private colleges has contributed to LRCC's higher enrollment, Fraser said.

"We're the least expensive option in the state," Fraser said, adding that community colleges also allow students to transfer credits to a four-year school.

At LRCC, it costs New Hampshire residents $183 per credit hour. By comparison, one undergraduate credit hour at the University of New Hampshire is $420; at Plymouth State University, that one credit for an undergrad costs $376.

For the 2009-2010 school year, PSU had 4,240 applications, the second highest number in the school's history. The expected first-year enrollment is 980.

According to Bruce Lyndes, media relations manager for PSU, the percentage of people applying for financial aid programs is about the same – 80 percent of students.

"The difference we are experiencing is with the instability of families' resources due to layoffs, reduction of hours, foreclosures, and bankruptcies," he said. "We have had an increase of approximately 33 percent over last year's total reviews of families' requests for financial aid appeals."

Gene Fahey, senior associate director of admission at PSU, said the increase in the number of applicants has little to do with the economy and more to do with demographics (a higher number of high school graduates), recruitment efforts and the quality of the university. Fahey also pointed out that although application numbers are strong, the actual enrollment rate has not kept pace in recent years.

"Many four-year colleges feel the current economic environment has influenced some accepted students to defer their enrollment or to attend a less costly institution," Fahey said.

And LRCC is undoubtedly a less costly option for Lakes Region residents, even after tuition at all of the state's community colleges increased by 4.5 percent, or $8 per credit for New Hampshire residents, for the 2009-2010 school year.

However, a June release from the Community College System of New Hampshire Board of Trustees pointed out that scholarship support through the Community Colleges of New Hampshire Foundation more than doubled, with over $1.6 million awarded to New Hampshire students statewide. There have also been increases in federal Pell funding.

"New Hampshire's community colleges will continue to provide exceptional, affordable opportunities for NH citizens to pursue higher education and work toward their professional goals in high-demand fields," Board of Trustees Chairman Paul Holloway said. "The community colleges prepare our citizens for jobs that strengthen our state's economy. Keeping college affordable and accessible, while maintaining the quality of education we offer and the service we provide to the state of New Hampshire by developing a skilled workforce, remain the highest priorities of the community college system."

Martin Lord & Osman
Varney Smith
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