Enrollment up as recession, transfer program make NVCC more appealing

By Holly Hobbs
Fairfax County Times
Thursday, June 24, 2010; VA18

Despite the recession, Northern Virginia Community College has experienced a renaissance in the past few years.

Fueled by the economic downturn and students' desire for a quality education at a lower price, enrollment at the college's eight campuses has increased from 58,587 in 2005 to about 78,400 this year, NVCC President Robert Templin said. The college projects enrollment to be 84,000 by 2015.

NVCC saw a spike in enrollment during winter break in December 2008, Templin said, which was unusual for a school that usually has increases in September.

"What it was for a lot of middle-income families -- they realized they couldn't afford four-year universities," Templin said.

A 12-credit course load at NVCC -- which has campuses in Alexandria, Annandale, Loudoun County, Manassas, Woodbridge, Arlington County, Springfield and Reston -- costs about $1,350 for in-state students. That is about a third of what most four-year institutions in Virginia charge, Templin said.

Templin said his vision for the school is to use its popularity to expand programs in high-tech fields, generating an educated workforce that will fill local employment needs. Such jobs will be in demand when the economy recovers, he said.

Katherine Lee, 22, who attends George Mason University, studied at NVCC before transferring into a tech-related field of study, GMU's computer game design program. School officials said GMU is the most popular transfer spot for students at NVCC.

"The main reason I transferred to [NVCC] was to save money," said Lee, who had paid out-of-state tuition at a Maryland school. "I spoke to a guidance counselor [at NVCC], and they said, 'What do you want to do?' . . . They said Mason is your best bet, and we actually have an agreement with them."

Helping students transfer to other universities has helped NVCC find a foothold for future expansion. Students can attend a community college in Virginia for their first two years and then transfer to larger, four-year universities with limited or credit losses, as long as they meet the other school's GPA requirements.

Those requirements vary. The College of William and Mary requires a 3.6 grade-point average, while the University of Virginia and Virginia Tech require a 3.5 GPA.

Because this path to a four-year university is popular, the school is seeking ways to make its college experience more youthful and flexible, Templin said.

NVCC is "exploring the possibility of building housing," Templin said, adding that if that occurred, it would become the first community college in the state with dorms.

The boom at NVCC is being reflected statewide. Virginia is home to 23 community colleges.

"We traditionally have a two-tier mission," said Jeff Kraus, spokesman for the Virginia Community College System. "One is to get people [their] two-year education so they can move on to the next [scholastic] level. And the other is workforce training."

In the past five years, statewide enrollment at community colleges has increased about 22 percent. Last year, the number of full-time students rose by about 13 percent.

Overall, the biggest change has been the manner in which the community college is perceived, Templin said.

"It's moved from a kind of 'second-best' to mainstream," he said. "That's happened because of affordability, . . . and it's happened because the universities are recommending that their students come here."

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