More university students taking advantage of cheaper community college courses

By Daniel de Vise
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, August 16, 2010

Sean Daly's friends in Potomac spend their summer days planning their summer nights, savoring three months of freedom from the college grind.

But Daly returned home from Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles and headed straight to the local community college for more classes.

Community colleges in the Washington region are doing brisk business this summer with students from four-year universities. The students are taking advantage of increasingly flexible transfer policies to load up on cheap, convenient credits that will help them graduate more quickly and at a lower expense.

Prince George's Community College enrolled 136 students from four-year colleges this summer, nearly double last year's number. Tidewater Community College in Virginia has 2,150 four-year college students, up 14 percent. Montgomery College has 3,100 four-year college students, about one-quarter of its summer enrollment. No comparison with last year's enrollment was available.

"The community college is part of the rhythm of four-year college attendance, more and more," said Cliff Adelman, a senior associate with the Institute for Higher Education Policy.

The growing role of two-year colleges is part of a broader trend. Three-fifths of those who earn bachelor's degrees attend more than one college, and the percentage is slowly rising, according to federal data.

In a mobile society with an abundance of classes available online, students increasingly view college as a collection of credits rather than a four-year term on one campus. These collegiate nomads, called "swirlers," are becoming a major force in higher education.

Daly, 20, is spending $1,600 this summer for courses in statistics, 20th-century history, nutrition and anthropology. He's satisfying several graduation requirements and completing nearly a semester's worth of credits at Loyola Marymount, where a year of study costs $52,705 in tuition, fees and living expenses.

"I'm saving so much money going to Montgomery College and getting all these classes out of the way," he said.

Daly is paying for college himself and hoping to graduate in three years with a double major in theater and communications. He leaves home each morning with his father, spends the school day at the college, then goes to a lifeguard job at a community pool. He dines with his family at 10 p.m. -- a concession to his lifeguard hours -- then goes out with his friends if he has the energy.

"The hardest part is saying no to people," he said. "It's like every night, no one else has anything to do."

High quality

Federal data show that about 15 percent of four-year college students take classes at community college, chiefly in the summer. Picking up a few summer credits is a well-worn custom for students who have failed classes or are missing general-education requirements. Some Washington area community colleges advertise on four-year campuses.

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