Big enrollment jump at Virginia community colleges in the midst of budget cuts

By Gene Petriello - bio | email

HENRICO COUNTY, VA (WWBT) - In this tough economy, 2-year community colleges are seeing big increases in their enrollment. We take a look at J Sargeant Reynolds Community College this year and how it stacks up to previous years.

Most of the students here say it all comes down to this: money. They are able to get the classes they need to succeed at a much cheaper price.

Registration papers in hand, David Zobel is ready for his first class next week.

"It's pretty affordable for the classes I need to take," said David. "Welding is one that I could afford and could really benefit from."

He's one of about 2,500 extra students expected to enroll at J Sarg this fall compared to the same time last year. At the state level, an influx of thousands and thousands of additional students are expected on campuses.

"Make sure everyone has the chance to learn and people need that more than ever now," said Jeff Kraus with Virginia Community College System.

"I'm actually surprised it didn't happen sooner. I think a lot of people are looking to new avenues and ways to work," said David.

It costs a little more than $100 per credit at J Sarg if you are an in-state student. Kraus says that's about a third of the cost to go to VCU.

The jump in enrollment comes in the midst of steep budget cuts. At J Sarg, it was 5% last year and it could possibly be 10% this year alone.

School officials also know more than just budget-challenges await.

"We're so overwhelmed that many of our classes are filled. We can't offer enough sections fast enough to keep up with the demand," said Diane Brasington, Associate Vice President of Policy and Institutional Effectiveness at J Sarg.

She says the school is working on adding faculty and class sections, if they can find the staff to do the work.

"I'm going down to the wire and fighting the system with getting registration and getting all the paperwork right," said David. "I'm worried by the time classes start, there won't be any space in that class I need to take."

Classes start up on Monday at J Sarg. Between now and the end of registration next Friday, they are expecting to see a big increase in the number of students enrolling, in the middle of the tough economy.

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