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More wealthy students at two-year college

BY ASMAA ELKEURTI | NOVEMBER 04, 2011 7:20 AM

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Sarah Dirks really wanted an apartment after she graduated from high school.

After evaluating the cost of attending a four-year university the 19-year-old Iowa City resident discovered she would have to live at home and take out student loans.

Dirks, however, chose to forgo the four-year route. She spent her first year attending Kirkwood Community College in Iowa City and was able to live away from home and comfortably pay tuition, she said.

As the economic recovery limps along, two-year colleges have become a more attractive alternative, officials said.

Enrollment at Kirkwood Community College has increased over the past few years, reaching a record of more than 18,000 in the fall of 2010 from just around 15,000 in the fall of 2008, said Chris Bowser, the Kirkwood enrollment-services manager.

In addition to the increased enrollment, the number of federal financial-aid applications Kirkwood receives has also increased substantially, from slightly more than 14,000 in the 2008-09 year to more than 20,000 for the 2010-11 school year.

Those numbers account for both government grant applications as well as applications for loans.

Colleges around the country show a similar trend. Even among students without tough financial restrictions, cheaper colleges are becoming more popular. Data collected by Sallie Mae showed upper-income families are spending almost 20 percent less on college this year than they did last year.

University of Iowa economics lecturer Hennadige Thenuwara said with the economy in a slump, such numbers make sense.

"The economy's not doing well, it's fallen, so then families might have a greater preference to go to a two-year college than a four-year college, which is less expensive," he said.

Bowser said, historically, this is something community colleges have seen whenever the economy takes a turn for the worse.

Another factor that might account for such an increase in the number of two-year college enrollment is the boost in the number of minorities graduating from high school, said Joe Marks, the director of Education Data Services at the Southern Regional Education Board in Georgia.

In Iowa, during the 2008-2009 school year, 90 percent of graduating students were white. The projected number of graduating African-American and Latino students is expected to rise to 16 percent by 2019. Those students are more likely to come from low-income families.

Driks said the decreased tuition doesn't necessarily mean students receive a lesser quality of education.


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