With the costs of college education soaring, sometimes into the hundreds of thousands of dollars, many students, including those from middle-class families, are looking at local community colleges like College of the Mainland and Galveston College to get a quality education at a more affordable price.
More than 40 percent of all first-year college students in the United States now attend public or private community colleges, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. The percentage of U.S. college students enrolled in community college has risen by over one-third since the 1970s.
There’s been a national push for middle-class students to pick community colleges over universities, Julie Ajinkya, the vice president of applied research at the Institute for Higher Education Policy, said.
“Community colleges offer great incentives for underserved students,” she said. “The appeal for community colleges is that they are local. For students who have responsibilities and are working, local institutions often make sense.”
For middle-income students in Texas, community college is the best option to get a post-secondary education, Ajinkya said.
“They want to try more affordable options,” she said. “Students are often going to school 15 miles to where they live.”
Choosing a community college like College of the Mainland was the best choice for her in terms of personal finance, Dickinson resident Alyssa Galvan said.
“Community college is cheaper,” Galvan said. “I don’t have much money to go to college.”
Galvan, 19, plans to transfer to the University of Texas Medical Branch after she completes her basics, which is the cheapest option to make sure she isn’t in debt, she said.
“This was what I could afford,” she said. “It’s closer to home and textbooks aren’t as expensive.”
With the combined expenses of tuition, classes and textbooks, more middle-class students are enrolling in community colleges, College of the Mainland Vice President for Institutional Advancement Mary Ann Amelang said.
“There are more middle-class students coming to community colleges because they can save their parents up to $40,000,” Amelang said.
Enrollment at College of the Mainland has grown by about 21 percent during the past 10 years, according to the college. During the fall 2008 semester, 3,561 students were enrolled. By the fall 2017, enrollment had grown to 4,328.
Galveston College had an enrollment of 2,251 in fall 2016, which was an increase from the school’s reported 2015 enrollment of 2,119.
A reason for community college growth is more middle-class students are deciding to stay in the area both for comfort and financial reasons, Amelang said.
“Middle-class folks can’t really afford full, four-year universities,” she said. “A lot of people are looking at community colleges as a way to save money and keep their kids out of debt.”
Galveston College also offers students enticements to stay in the area.
Galveston College’s Universal Access program provides scholarships to potentially all students who graduate from a high school in Galveston or who complete a GED or home schooling program.
Students qualify for the program if they do not receive federal college financial aid, meaning the money mostly goes to lower- and middle-class students, said Maria Tripovich, director of development and the Galveston College Foundation.
“We have a demographic that is so driven by life circumstances and we can’t penalize them for that,” she said. “It’s no longer a stigma to go to community college.”
Going to College of the Mainland is based on local and financial decisions, Hitchcock resident Zavion Hunter said.
“It’s closer and it’s way cheaper,” he said. “It’s easier to go to a community college before a four-year university.”
Planning to transfer to Texas A&M University, Hunter, 19, said it’s simpler to begin at a community college.
“It’s easier to get into the groove of college because some people aren’t ready for university,” he said.
Texas college students also are more likely to attend college on a part-time basis and a growing number of college students are over 21, according to the Center for Public Policy Priorities.
College of the Mainland was the best option because community colleges provide working students with flexible schedules, Santa Fe resident Kristy Vaughn said.
“It’s close and it’s cheaper,” Vaughn, 26, said. “I got all my basics out of the way. You get a feel for college, and you can work and go to school.”