Community colleges see record enrollment

Enrollment at community colleges across the country are at an all-time high. Locally, some schools are seeing record enrollment like they've never seen before.

With skyrocketing costs to attend private universities, many students are gravitating toward more affordable community colleges. It's forcing the schools to make room for students amid growing demand. Read more in depth in USA Today about how more students are on waiting lists.

Cayuga Community College is noticing the spike in demand, seeing its highest enrollment this year in the college's 57 year history. Some 3,900 students are enrolled for the fall semester, and college officials expect the numbers to continue to climb.

And they're not alone. At Jefferson Community College, enrollment is up more than 10 percent over 2009 with a record number of students enrolled full-time. School leaders say the cost of a community college has helped make the school more attractive to perspective students.

Onondaga Community College is now home to almost 12,500 students, a 50 percent increase over the last five years, according to Amy Kremeneck, Chief Public Affairs Officer. She says the school has grown exponentially, in part, due to out-of-work adults heading back to school to pursue a new career path.

In a sign of greater student demand, OCC recently broke ground on a new athletic arena. The $12.4 million facility will be used for student athletic teams as well as high school sports teams and community events. The 60,000 square foot facility will seat up to 6,500 people.

But due to state budget cuts many community colleges are left struggling to accommodate students with fewer dollars. Many community colleges like OCC rely on funding from the state and county. In the 2010-2011 state budget, eight community colleges across New York, including OCC, faced cuts of $285 per full time student, a savings of $40.3 million for the state.

Due to mid-year cuts last November and more cuts in this year's budget, OCC was forced to eat a $4.4 million loss in state funding. Kremeneck says the school anticipated there would be cuts, but had hoped that it would be less given the recent enrollment boom. Now, the school is turned elsewhere, seeking out private funding sources as they try to meet increased student demand.

The school's partnership with private institutions like SRC is helping to fill that gap. OCC also launched a $6 million capital campaign, which it reached thanks, in large part, to a $1.125 gift from SRC to fund the new athletic arena.