SARANAC LAKE - The two local colleges started classes at the beginning of the week, and North Country Community College is seeing a marked increase in the number of students enrolled, while Paul Smith's College expects its enrollment numbers to stay about where they were last year.
About 2,159 students began classes at North Country Community College Tuesday, an 8 percent increase over the school's enrollment last year.
Ed Trathen, the school's vice president for enrollment and student services, attributes the increase to the fact that the school is so affordable. Many students pay little or no money to attend, and in a deep recession such as the country is now experiencing, this seems to be attracting more and more families.
NCCC, which only offers associate degrees, saw about a 20 percent increase in transfer students. Trathen said some of those students are people who started school elsewhere and decided not to complete it for whatever reason, but others are returning to school after completing associate, bachelor's or master's degrees to gain vocational skills. Trathen said students will often get a general education at a liberal arts school and then gain business or other job skills through an associate degree.
"For a lot of students, that's a great complement," Trathen said.
Others are returning to school to change their careers.
"People are just being more flexible about what they're doing," Trathen said. "They're going where the jobs are."
NCCC also saw a 20 percent increase in the number of first-time, full-time students.
Trathen said families are deciding to send their students to community college because they see it as a good value. The top 20 students in each school in Franklin and Essex counties have the opportunity to attend tuition-free, which has been drawing more academically gifted students, Trathen said.
At Paul Smith's College, the local private school, enrollment officials are satisfied to not see a drop-off in enrollment.
While they planned for a 20-student decrease this school year due to the economy, Paul Smith's enrollment representatives are happy to see the number of students around 940, up by seven students over last fall.
"We're actually quite pleased with the way that the numbers are looking so far," said Kathy Fitzgerald, vice president of enrollment management at Paul Smith's.
Enrollment numbers are still fuzzy because students put down deposits and don't show up for school, a phenomenon enrollment officials call "melt," said college spokesman Ken Aaron.
This can happen for a host of reasons. For instance, students' financial aid packages may not come through, or they may have paid deposits at multiple schools and chosen another. And it's difficult to predict how much enrollment will decrease, Aaron said.
This year, the school increased the necessary deposit from $100 to $250 to discourage students from putting down money and not following through with attending the college, Aaron said.
A full student census is conducted several weeks into the school year to determine exact enrollment numbers. Monday was the first day of classes at Paul Smith's.
The school has limited long-term growth ambitions but maintains a commitment to being a small college. Fitzgerald said an ideal amount of students would be about 1,050 or 1,100.
"Our goal is growth, but small, incremental growth," Fitzgerald said.
For now, Fitzgerald said she is satisfied with the numbers. And another number that has her excited is a 20 percent increase in transfer students.
Fitzgerald said the college has been purposeful in recruiting transfer students since so many families are choosing to send their children to community colleges for an associate degree and then looking to further their education at private schools.
Fitzgerald said the college values transfer students because they have a level of maturity that other students don't have - they've proven to themselves that they can earn a degree and have made the decision to get another.
"Those students are really a wonderful asset to our community and an example to students who are newer to campus," Fitzgerald said.
To that end, Paul Smith's has been working to make adjustments so a transfer student with an associate degree can graduate with a bachelor's in two years.
Paul Smith's is also trying to reach that community college demographic through its programs at three community colleges in the region. Paul Smith's runs bachelor's degree completion programs at Adirondack Community College in Glens Falls, Jefferson Community College in Watertown and Finger Lakes Community College in Canandaigua.
Fitzgerald also said she's excited about the number of military veterans attending the school this year. There are 14 veterans enrolled at Paul Smith's, and she said she expects that number to climb in the future since the school participates in the Yellow Ribbon Program, part of the new GI Bill, in which vets are covered for the total cost of school, including room, board and books.
She said this is appropriate because the majority - possibly all - of the first class at Paul Smith's College in 1946 attended on the GI Bill.
"There's a commitment through the community here that this is something we feel very strongly about," Fitzgerald said.
The college will have a club for veterans and will be checking in to make sure it is providing all the services they need.
Contact Jessica Collier at 891-2600 ext. 25 or firstname.lastname@example.org.