In a difficult economy, it seems that more students would turn toward community colleges to pursue a higher education. But enrollment at Tompkins Cortland Community College has actually fallen the last two semesters. YNN's Tamara Lindstrom takes a deeper look at the trend.
TOMPKINS COUNTY, N.Y. -- When it comes to getting an education, it's hard to find a better bargain than a community college.
But despite high rates of academic success, enrollment at Tompkins Cortland Community College was down by six percent the last two semesters. The main reason? Administrators say, it's financial aid.
"While the Pell grants remain the same in terms of the amount of award that a student can get, there are much more restrictions in terms of how their eligibility is determined," explained TC3 President Carl Haynes.
Fewer students are able to take advantage of the assistance at a time when many of their parents are struggling as well.
"Increasingly, we're hearing that parents aren't able to borrow through a federally subsidized parent loan, which is restricting their children's ability to go to school," Haynes said.
At the same time, academic standards have been raised; in part, to preserve resources for serious students.
"If they wind up on probation because of their grade point average or whatever, how much time they have to get off probation before they wind up being suspended academically," Haynes said. "And they can come back if they want to later on, but they have to demonstrate that they've gotten more serious about their education."
But Haynes says there's another reason for the declining enrollment. It's the message students are getting about the value of an education.
"More so for community colleges, they get impacted by the messages in the media about is a college education really worth it? It's mind boggling to me how that discussion keeps on going," Haynes said. "Whether you get an associate degree, a baccalaureate degree, a graduate level degree, your earning power is greater and you will earn more over your lifetime than someone who does not have a college degree."
Haynes said the impression that a college education isn't worth the price can have serious impacts on families who struggle to make ends meet.
It's a false notion, he says, that frustrates educators.
"In this day and age where I hear about employers who have jobs and they can't find people to take those jobs. And we can prepare them for those jobs. But they've got to come in the door and they've got to take that little bit of a risk. Even if it means borrowing a little to get there."
Despite the budget challenges the school is facing, Haynes says there are new initiatives in place to help struggling students and he remains optimistic about the college's future.