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Economy prompts some enrollment increases

FINGER LAKES—For some adults, it’s not too late to go back to school.
That is what area BOCES and colleges are seeing. Adults are spending time in the classroom once more to learn new skills or get a new degree.
Keuka College in Penn Yan offers vocational training for non-traditional students. Gary Smith, management professor, said the program has been growing since 2000. He said compared to last year, the non-traditional student population has grown 10 percent. Smith said the number of people inquiring about enrolling has also increased. He explained that students are struggling to remain in college if money is tight, especially when balancing work, life, and losing a job.
“For those who can stay in school, they do,” he said. Smith explained the 750 students take classes from 20 different locations. He said that includes 12 hospitals and eight community colleges, from Rochester, to Syracuse, and to Binghamton.
Smith said through Keuka College, adults can get a degree in criminal justice (bachelor’s and master’s), management (bachelor’s and master’s), nursing (bachelor’s and master’s) or social work (bachelor’s). He explained the courses run five to eight weeks long each. When one class is finished, the students take the next for that degree. He said getting a degree can last 16 to 28 months.
“The high school degree used to be the minimum (needed),” said Smith. “Now a bachelor’s degree is the minimum ticket and is fast becoming a master’s.”
Smith said adults are coming back to school at Keuka College to keep up to date in their educations. He said 20 to 35 percent of aid provided actually comes from employers for just that reason.
Cindy Emerson, adult vocational specialist with GST (Greater Southern Tier) BOCES, said people have shown more interest in continuing their education. She explained that the government has provided stimulus money for education. Emerson said Workforce NY helps BOCES provide training for high demand jobs. She explained that list contains office careers, heavy equipment, and health care. She added the electric program is “taking off again” as well. She explained GST BOCES includes three campuses: in Elmira, Painted Post and Hornell.
Emerson said one indication of more people making use of BOCES is that the heavy equipment class has had to find more machinery to use and offer more hours. She said the class is for obtaining CDL (commercial driver’s licenses) A or B, needed for operating vehicles like dump trucks. She said the class had to borrow a truck from another BOCES campus, and rent a trailer for use at another campus. She said there are 150 people on the waiting list for the next Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN) program in March. Emerson nursing is a job in high demand.
However, Emerson could not say enrollment had gone up because BOCES still has the same number of students because of limited class sizes.
Emerson added the age of the average BOCES student has also increased some. She explained BOCES serves people ages 18 and up, but the median age range for BOCES continuing education students is 30 to 50 years old.
“Some people are losing their jobs in their 50s and 60s,” she said.
Lenore Friend, community affairs specialist for Finger Lakes Community College, said unlike elsewhere, the number of non-traditional students each year has stayed constant. She said for the fall of 2007 35 percent of students were over 21. In the fall of 2008 that group of students made up 34 percent of the college population. She added though that with the increase in unemployment and stimulus funds, there is more of a demand for continuing education. Friend said one of FLCC’s more popular courses is for certified nursing.
“It attracts older, displaced workers,” she said, adding that this is because there is such a high demand for it.
Another trend Friend said she is seeing is older students taking online courses. She explained doing that allows them to work around other responsibilities like work and family.

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