It's about price, proximity

HCC enrollment continues to rise as students save cash, stay home

December 17, 2011|By JULIE E. GREENE |
  • HCC Simulation and Digital Entertainment students Josh Merkle, left, and Matthew Hast, right, in the computer lab at HCC's ATC building.
By Joe Crocetta/Staff Photographer

Christian Howard started taking classes at Hagerstown Community College in the fall of 2010 under a program that enables high school students to earn high school and college credit at a discounted price.

A graduate of Washington County Technical High School, Howard said he had planned to join the military rather than attending college after graduation, but found out two weeks before basic training that he didn't clear the medical requirements to enter the service.

So he chose to keep taking classes at HCC.

"HCC is close to home and the prices are really decent compared to other colleges," said Howard, 18, of Smithsburg. He had considered attending Boston College or moving in with his uncle for a year so he could get in-state tuition at the University of North Carolina at Wilmington.

But both of those options were too expensive and he liked the proximity of HCC, Howard said. Once he figures out what he wants to study, he plans to look into four-year colleges so he can transfer after two years at HCC.

Whether or not they had their eyes set on community college as high school freshman, several Hagerstown Community College students interviewed recently cited affordability, proximity and the atmosphere on campus as reasons they chose the school.

In the past 10 complete fiscal years, the number of students enrolled in HCC credit courses has grown from 3,883 students in fiscal year 2002 to 6,850 students in fiscal year 2011. That's 76 percent growth, according to a compilation of official enrollment reports found on the college's website.

Enrollment in fall courses continued to grow this year. As of Oct. 11, 5,075 students were enrolled in credit programs, compared to 4,886 a year earlier, according to a fall enrollment report.

The increase of 189 students, from fall 2010 to fall 2011, is largely due to the fact there were 233 more part-time students at HCC this fall than a year ago.

On the other hand, the number of full-time students decreased by 44 students.

Anecdotally, HCC spokeswoman Beth Stull said she's heard of several part-time students who have jobs who are taking courses at HCC because they want to train for better careers.

Essence students also are considered part-time students, Stull said.

Through the Essence program, which began on a pilot basis in 2002, high school students are enrolled at their high schools and at HCC and earn credits at both.

The number of students enrolled in the Essence program increased by 71, from 455 students to 526. That includes high school students from outside Washington County and Maryland, Stull said.

Amanda Jenkins and Joseph Garrish both started at HCC through the Essence program as home-schooled students, they said.

It's easier to get into HCC and then plan to transfer to a four-year college than to try to get into a four-year college right after high school, in part because students don't have to deal with SAT or ACT tests to be admitted to HCC, Jenkins said.

While college entrance exam scores can be a factor in being admitted to a four-year college, those colleges also will be interested in her HCC transcript when she applies for transfer, she said.

HCC Recruitment Coordinator Kevin Crawford said HCC doesn't require SAT or ACT scores for admittance, but placement exams are given to incoming HCC students to make sure they get in the proper classes.

Students with high SAT or ACT scores could be exempt from taking placement tests, he said.

Jenkins started attending HCC during the equivalent of her senior year in high school. Participation in the Essence program also allowed her to earn college credit at half the price it would cost a regular HCC student, said Jenkins, 20, of Hagerstown.

Essence students from outside Washington County get a 25 percent discount on tuition, Crawford said.

Jenkins expects to graduate in the spring and plans to transfer to Shepherd University to study physical education. She wants to work in parks and recreation.

Price and proximity

Several students interviewed recently listed cost-savings and proximity to home as top reasons why they chose to attend HCC.

"The price was just amazing and my financial aid covered everything," said Crystal Macafity, 18, a nursing student from Hagerstown.

Macafity said that when she was a high school student, she didn't think highly of HCC.

"I kind of looked down upon it, like 13th grade," Macafity said.

During her junior year at North Hagerstown High School, she started talking to counselors about college costs, and discovered her college of choice — Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y. — cost about $18,000 for one semester.

According to Cornell's website, tuition for one semester of undergraduate classes is $20,662 for out-of-state residents.

Crawford said he tells students to expect attending HCC full time for four semesters to cost from about $8,000 to $8,500 for tuition and fees. Based on the current tuition rate, tuition and basic fees for 64 credits over four semesters would cost $7,332, he said.

So Macafity chose HCC for its price and proximity to home.

"I got to stay home because I am a momma's girl," she said.

As for her feelings about HCC now, Macafity said she, like any freshman at a four-year college, is facing the stress of final exams and finding her way around the campus.

Gustavo Barbosa, 20, of Hagerstown, said he wanted to go to the University of Maryland at College Park, but it was too expensive and he hadn't taken all of the required classes.

So he's living at home while attending HCC full time and working at McDonald's part time to save money so he can transfer to Frostburg State University.

"My first thoughts were to go to Morgan State (University)," but HCC was more convenient and affordable, said Alyse Hughes, 18, of Hagerstown.

"I just felt that if I went to HCC that I'd be stuck in Hagerstown forever, and I didn't want that," Hughes said.

Now, Hughes said, she realizes she made the better choice and plans to transfer to Coppin State University in Baltimore after she earns an associate degree in criminal justice.

The first choice

At least two of the HCC students interviewed said HCC was their first choice when they were selecting a college.

"I was planning to go to HCC. My mother works here. We did a lot of talking about the price of college," said Olivia Laguerre, 17, of Hagerstown.

In addition to its affordability, she likes being close to home because she is close to her family, said Laguerre, who has a double major in sociology and psychology at HCC and plans to transfer after three years.

Tache Assini, 18, of Hagerstown, said she was going to graduate from South Hagerstown High School early and spend what would have been her high school senior year taking classes at HCC to get a feel for college before going to a four-year college.

"I didn't know what I wanted to study, so I did four years in high school" instead, she said.

Assini still hadn't decided on a course of study when she entered HCC, but in her second week at the community college, she decided to study nursing.  

Sense of community

Several students interviewed said they liked the atmosphere and sense of community at HCC.

Stephen Nicholson, a 13-year Army veteran who later became a private investigator, said he chose HCC because it was close to home, was a growing community college and he liked the school's atmosphere.

"I'm more of a hands-on" person, said Nicholson, 45, explaining why he didn't want to take online courses. A single father looking for a safer job, Nicholson said he's studying computer graphics and wants to start his own advertising firm after graduation.

Matthew Hast, 28, said he earned his GED from HCC in 1999 and returned in the summer of 2009 to take a couple of classes in order to determine if HCC was a good fit for him as a college student.

After taking online courses, Hast said he wanted to attend a live college instead of a virtual one because he wanted the interaction between teacher and student.

He also found something at HCC that he really wanted to do — the simulation and digital entertainment program, said Hast, a veteran of the Iraq War.

Hast, with the help of classmate Josh Merkle, designed an animated holiday card for HCC, and the two are getting ready to launch an online comic strip and are considering going into business together after college.

Merkle, 21, said he likes the atmosphere at HCC, a smaller campus than that of Shippensburg University, where he attended school for two years.

Shippensburg wasn't his style, said Merkle, a Waynesboro (Pa.) Area Senior High School graduate. But at HCC, he said, he found "more of a community."

"I love it. It's great. The classes are interesting and fun. The teachers are great," said Merkle, who is studying simulation and digital entertainment. He is adding a second concentration of computer science, so he expects to be at HCC for three years.

"Everybody I've met, we're always coming together and helping each other out," Merkle said of other students in his program.

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