According to a 2011 study by Sallie Mae, 22 percent of college students from families who make more than $100,000 a year attended community colleges last year, a 6 percentage point increase from 2010.
But what would attract middle class students to community colleges?
When the economy tanked, the middle class did not emerge unscathed. With less money to spend on their educations, community colleges promise students transferable credits at a fraction of the cost. But that isn’t the only thing that is attracting middle class students to community colleges.
Casey Carbill, the president of Raritan Valley Community College, told Inside Higher Ed that her suburban New Jersey community college has taken steps to create more of a “first year experience” for its students.
This is the other piece of the puzzle. Cheaper classes are not enough to attract large numbers of students to community colleges. Many students want amenities like fitness centers and university-style dining halls.
Traditionally, community colleges have been viewed as extensions of high schools. By focusing on improving student life on their campuses, administrators like Carbil have shown that they know what community college students really want — not to be reminded that they are at a community college.
As the economy gets worse, more students will be turning to community colleges for respite from the rapidly increasing tuitions of 4-year universities.
At the University of Houston, it seems the norm for students to transfer in from community colleges. The study from Sallie Mae indicates that this could soon become the norm for university students across the nation.
If community colleges continue to focus on improving the content of their courses and the experience of students on their campuses, they will have little to worry about as they ride out the recession.