Monday, August 25, 2008

Enrollment at SCC up 9.1 percent

Enrollment at SCC up 9.1 percent
Officials say slumping economy contributing to jump in sign-ups
By TONY BURCHYNS/Times-Herald staff writer
Article Launched: 08/24/2008

FAIRFIELD - The poor economy is contributing to a steep enrollment jump at Solano Community College, school officials said Friday.

Fall classes began last Monday, and there are nearly 1,000 more students enrolled than last year, school spokesman Ross Beck said.

The 9.1 percent enrollment increase may be due to the poor job market, Beck said. Across the state community colleges and four-year universities are reporting similar trends, he said.

"We offer a lot of job training classes, and a lot of people are looking to upgrade their skills right now," Beck said. "We're also offering more online services."

In addition to economic factors, new facilities such as the Vallejo Center on Columbus Parkway are pushing enrollment up, school officials said.

But when jobs dry up, classes fill up faster, said Jerry Kea, director of the Vallejo Center.

"It's hard to say why, but generally speaking whenever times are difficult and unemployment goes up, people go back to school," Kea said. "They want to be retooled ... they want to gather new skills."

It may be harder to find a parking spot, but 22-year-old student J.R. Estares said he welcomes more hustle and bustle on the Fairfield campus.

"It feels like a nice environment when there's more students here," said Estares, a business and marketing student. "It's easier to do homework, to ask other people for help ... and you meet more friends."

Estares, who works in the Student Development Office, said student clubs are taking advantage of the situation by recruiting more members.

Professor Jim DeKloe, who heads the school's growing biotech program, said the highly specialized courses are twice as full as they were last year.

"And we could get more," DeKloe said. "In a poor economy, people change careers and go back to school. It's a good idea. If someone works in retail, they should probably think about changing jobs."

Solano Community College President Gerry Fisher attributed the growth to a number of factors, not the least which would be the slow economy.

"Students probably aren't finding jobs as easily as they may have been in the past," Fisher said. "They usually use this time to come back to school when jobs are hard to come by."

Fisher also said the rising cost of gas and the addition of the Vallejo Center have led to the increased student growth. He also noted growth across the spectrum at community colleges and four-year universities.

"It's a good thing for us and I hope the state can help to fund some that growth," Fisher said.

Michael Amman, president of the Solano Economic Development Corporation, said more students could be picking community colleges over four-year schools because they are less expensive.

"Obviously unemployment has gone up," Amman said. "And much of that is because of the decline of the housing market and the loss of construction jobs. But whether it is unemployment, or the need (for people with jobs) to increase their skill levels ... all those are good reasons to access community college."