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Community College Enrollment Grows in Slowing Economy

Columbus State's enrollment grew by 5.8 percent this fall. For the first time in the school's history, more students enrolled in winter quarter than fall quarter. Compared to winter quarter last year, that's 7 percent more students.

College spokesman David Wayne says the higher numbers could be indicative of the economy. Parents are sending their children to college on a tighter budget

"Also, we're seeing more students arrive here that might be looking to retrain and retool their careers because of the impending layoffs in many industries," Wayne said.

Ryan Hawkinberrry joined the chef apprenticeship program at Columbus state this fall. He went back to school after accepting a buyout at the General Motors plant in Mansfield last year. After working with the company for almost ten years he left a job making 31 dollars an hour. He says with shrinking benefits and newer contracts, he knew he wouldn't last much longer.

"When they offered that buyout, I was the first one to sign up for it," Hawkinberry said. "I mean, I knew I wanted out of GM."

Now, the 34 year old father of five works evenings in the kitchen at the Columbus Fish Market and takes a full load of classes. He's living on smaller wages, but he says it's worth it to pursue his passion.

"Everybody asks me at work, 'How you doin'?' I'm living the dream," he said. "To me, I am. Will I ever get rich at this? Who knows. If I ever open a restaurant, will it fail? Possibly. Possibly not."

Like Columbus State, other technical colleges are experiencing growth. DeVry University has grown steadily nationwide says Galen Graham, President of the Columbus Campus. In Ohio enrollment in online classes has grown by 30 percent in the past year, a change that he says could be attributed to higher gas prices and the slowing economy. Students are also staying enrolled longer.

"Students are, I think, looking at higher education as, an important factor when the economy does turn around and they're doing some good planning and deciding to stay enrolled," Graham said.

The Central Ohio Technical College saw the highest rate of growth among public institutions this fall when it's enrollment jumped by 15 point 5 percent. Preliminary figures for winter enrollment show an 18 percent increase compared to last winter, said Admissions Manager Mark Labutis.

And while most college administrators say there are no recession-proof occupations, Labutis says COTC has seen growth in health occupations and criminal justice.

"Regardless of what happens economically, people still need access to health care," he said. "People still need protection and law enforcement. So those are two areas, there's consistently a need for."

Amy Fields has been a respiratory therapist for more than 15 years. She works with trauma patients at Grant Medical Center. Fields recently went back to school at Columbus State to become a registered nurse. She says the decision to return to school wasn't economical, but her field is also facing challenging times.

"We're having down staffing not layoffs, which also hurts, but it's better than being laid off," Fields said.

She works full time and is a full-time student, but a combination of online and on-campus classes eases the burden, she said. And returning to school presents a different set of challenges for her than it did years ago when she received her associate's degree.

"It's been what seventeen years since a chemistry class," she said. "So this is my first chemistry class and I'm older, by at least 25 years, than most of the people in my class."

Fields says she will complete her degree in two years.