INA, Ill. – Five days into the 2009-10 term – and in its 42nd year of educating students on the campus in Ina, Ill. – Rend Lake College is on pace for another record-setting year.
Enrollment is up by eight percent from this time last year at the comprehensive two-year community college located on the east shore of scenic Rend Lake in Southern Illinois. RLC officials are crediting students’ and parents’ smart decisions in a weak economy for the enrollment surge.
“More and more dual credit students are coming here to complete their associates degrees,” said Chris Kuberski, RLC Vice President of Academic Instruction. “They had a positive experience with dual credit classes in high school and realize that an associates degree, versus a collection of courses, transfers completely into a four-year program. I also believe the economy, and four-year schools being less affordable, contribute to the decision to come here. With funding decreasing for students, they are making good economic choices and still getting a quality education.”
“There is a good chance that cuts made to student financial aid by the State of Illinois are driving individuals or will drive them to seek us out as an affordable option,” added RLC Vice President of Finance and Administration Larry West. “When you consider Illinois MAP [Monetary Award Program] grants, which are apportioned upon tuition rates, have been slashed by 50 percent and discontinued for spring qualifiers, one would assume those who cannot carry that hardship are shopping for education with a smaller price tag. We may have yet to see the total amount of disowned students who come to us this year for a quality education at an affordable price.”
The eight percent increase – 2,527 for a record 34,456 total credit hours – at RLC this fall is fueled by a 1,000-plus increase – the largest – in health occupational programs like certified nurse assistant, practical nursing and associate degree nursing. Four-year transfer courses, business occupational programs like office systems technology and technical occupational programs like welding have also grown.
“Programs leading to work in healthcare or related fields have jumped 33 percent,” said Vice President of Career Technical Instruction Lisa Payne. “Another boom has been in welding where credit hours have eclipsed 1,000 with an increase of 43 percent.”
And as one side of the house fills up, so do prerequisite courses. English, math, and science courses like zoology, microbiology and biology that support the nursing programs are all up. There have also been significant increases in criminal justice and education – a good sign considering a shortage of teachers is expected as educators reach retirement age, Kuberski pointed out.
Zachary Sims, an 18-year-old sophomore from Pinckneyville, said he would have chosen RLC over a four-year university even if he wasn’t chosen for a scholarship to the college.
“I came to Rend Lake College because it is cheaper, I can still get a quality education and it’s closer,” he said.
Sims plans to transfer an associates degree from RLC into a hospitality management program at a university. He said he doesn’t qualify for grants because his parents’ income puts him over the eligibility limit.
Chad Caldwell is another student who doesn’t qualify for the usual grants like Pell and MAP, but for different reasons. The 34-year-old from Sims said he exhausted his grant funding on his way to an associate in science from RLC in 2003. The maximum time frame a student can continue to receive financial aid at RLC is 150 percent of the number of hours required for the program, or completing a degree program. Students pursuing an additional degree or certificate, or those who have changed majors, are eligible to file an appeal for an extension, according to Rachel Sveda, a financial aid specialist at RLC.
Caldwell recently lost his job at Champion Laboratories in Albion and now relies on funding through the federal Trade Adjustment Act to make retraining financially possible. The TAA is aimed at training students who have lost a job due to foreign competition and is administered locally through the Man-Tra-Con Corporation, according to Molly Humm with Man-Tra-Con. Caldwell is majoring in the IT systems specialist program at RLC.
“I’m interested in that field,” he said. “[TAA is] a pretty good program. It pays for pretty much everything ... books, tuition and mileage.”
Lisa Price is Dean of Student Services and Director of Counseling at RLC. She said the center is still busy registering students and will most likely continue to be busy throughout the week as last-minute registrants walk through the doors.
“I feel like there is a real push by people who want to upgrade their skills,” Price said. “Some are coming to take a few classes to make themselves more marketable in today’s workforce.”
She said another push has been made by proactive parents helping their teens choose the cost-conscious road to higher education.
“Some of these students have as much as a year of college under their belt because they were dual credit students in high school. They are making the right choice in coming here to finish their degrees so they can move on. It is a much more affordable option for the parent.”
Price said current high school seniors would be wise to fill out a financial aid application as soon as their parents’ 2009 tax returns are filed. Submitting a Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA, early could mean the difference between thousands of dollars in aid or coming up with other means of paying their tuition next fall, according to Price.
Visit Rend Lake College online at www.rlc.edu, call 618-437-5321, or stop by at 468 N. Ken Gray Parkway in Ina, Ill.