A value in education

HCC has growth spurt, partly due to bargain price

HCC has growth spurt, partly due to bargain price

September 15, 2005|by TIFFANY ARNOLD


As the co-valedictorian of her graduating class, Lindsey Rotz could have chosen from among many colleges and universities.

But like a growing number of high school graduates, Rotz chose Hagerstown Community College.

"I'd much rather pay what I am now than have to pay 20 times as much," said Rotz, 18, of Hagerstown. "My friend is paying 20 times as much and is taking the same classes I am."

While community colleges across Maryland are boasting record enrollments this year, HCC has seen the most growth, said Michael Keller, director of research for the Maryland Higher Education Commission (MHEC).


This fall, 3,590 students have enrolled at HCC. That is a 31.7 percent increase over three years, according to the commission. Enrollment statewide during that time has increased 8.7 percent, the commission reported.

To handle the growth and traffic congestion woes, HCC has planned a series of capital improvement programs through 2011. The plans include additional parking and a road that loops around the entire campus, as well as a $15.2 million arts and science complex.

Economic patterns and changing student attitudes are partly responsible for the increased enrollment, HCC spokeswoman Beth Stull said.

Stull said the college admitted four valedictorians and one salutatorian this year, which she said was not usual.

Rotz, who graduated from Grace Academy, said she intended to enroll at HCC since she was a freshman in high school.

"To me, a community college is still a college," she said. "It's not lower."

Rotz, who has not declared a major, said she was getting her general education courses out of the way before she transferred to a four-year school. She said she has her eyes on the University of Maryland and Shippensburg University.

While the rising cost of education is a major factor, Keller said enrollments at community colleges have historically countered economic trends.

According to MHEC, enrollments dipped during the late '90s, when the economy was climbing out of a recession. Enrollments rose after the economy took a downturn in 2001.

"People are going back to retrain, improving their credentials," Keller said.

The community college price is a major lure for some HCC students, particularly for nursing student Nina Geiger, a mother of five.

"It was a fraction of the cost," said Geiger, 45, of Waynesboro, Pa. "It was all I could afford."

Sherri Bryan, 19, of Clear Spring, said HCC's expanded nursing and radiography programs attracted her. The programs have more than doubled since 1999, according to HCC enrollment data.

"They have more to offer than they did before," she said. "Why go somewhere else when it's cheaper here?"

The U.S. Department of Education points to the "Baby Boom Echo" when explaining why more young people are going to college.

The "Baby Boom Echo" refers to young adults born between 1982 and 1995, descendants of Baby Boomers. Children of the Baby Boom Echo are flooding the nation's schools, causing record enrollments, federal school officials said.

Young students say they like the smaller class sizes at the community college and prefer staying closer to home.

"Since I stay at home, I don't have to worry about rent or dorms," said Alison Kirk, 19, of St. Thomas, Pa. "I wish I had the college life, but then I'd be afraid I'd party too much."

Who chooses HCC?

According to enrollment statistics provided by Hagerstown Community College:

  • The average HCC student is 27 years old.

  • Forty-eight percent of the 3,590 students on campus this year are 20 years old or younger.

  • The number of students 20 years old or younger has increased by 62 percent since 1995.
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