High school seniors will walk across graduation stages and step into the rest of their lives this June.
For some that means a stint at a two-year school, while others will leave the area to attend a four-year college or university. Others will opt to enlist in the military or seek employment. With millions of current and former college students stuck in the midst of career uncertainty and with mounting debt, making a good choice now could make or break a high school senior's economic future.
Jamestown High School seniors Nick Myers and Haley Kulakowski will take two different paths off their graduation stage four months from now. Myers plans to major in engineering at JCC, while Kulakowski will leave the area to study international relations at a yet-to-be-determined four-year college or university.
Jamestown High School seniors Haley Kulakowski and Nick Myers work on assignments in the JHS library. Kulakowski plans to attend a four-year school this fall, while Myers plans to go to JCC.
P-J?photo by Scott Shelters
For Myers, JCC made economic and social sense. He doesn't mind living at home for another year or two and won't spend a dime on tuition. As a student in the top 20 percent of his class, he qualifies for the college's USA Scholarship.
"My parents understand times are tough," he said. "JCC is a great school. I know a lot of people there, so that helps."
Myers may move out of his parents' house after his freshman year. However, he believes he can benefit from living there in more ways than one.
"I felt like if I went away, I'd lose touch with what really needs to get done," he said. "My parents will keep me in check."
Myers isn't alone in his community college decision. Chautauqua Lake, Clymer and Westfield were the only three of the 18 Chautauqua County school districts that sent more graduates to four-year schools than to two-year schools in 2010, according to the New York State Report Cards. Across the state, 47 percent of graduates chose to attend four-year schools in 2010, while 33 percent opted for two-year schools.
"Across New York state, here and across the country, community colleges have been the places to go during the nation's economic challenges," said Nelson J. Garifi, Jr., executive director of marketing and academic initiatives for JCC.
SOLUTION FOR MANY
JCC enrolled 31.7 percent of all 2011 high school graduates in Chautauqua County last fall. Statistically, 50 percent of those who graduate from JCC transfer out to earn bachelor's degrees, while the rest enter the working world.
The college's price tag and transfer agreements become attractive options for some. Others opt for a four-year, full-blown college experience.
"When it comes to making a decision, price is one of the things you consider," Garifi said. "I always talk to families about looking for value. What is value? Where does value exist? In my mind, value exists at the intersection of quality and affordability. Some people say they're looking for quality, but they're looking for prestige. Regardless of whether you spend four years at a St. Bonaventure or two here and two there, the outcome is identical. What varies for most is the loan-repayment book. You'll ultimately get the prestige if that's what the goal is, but you will have saved money in the process. This is the time to make some very thoughtful decisions. Look at all of the aspects and really weigh all of the options. It can't be made on cost alone, and it certainly can't be made on name alone. Everything has to be factored into it."
Due to the hesitance of some to jump right into four-year schools, more colleges have made transfer agreements with two-year schools. Students can transfer from JCC to 40 colleges and universities. Fredonia State, University at Buffalo, St. Bonaventure, Houghton College and SUNY Cortland are the colleges which students transfer to from JCC most frequently.
"The upper division colleges and universities are coming to us now to make agreements," Garifi said, noting some schools are allowing students to transfer more than 60 credits. "They know that families are shopping wisely and being good consumers. They want to make sure that if they're not going to get them out of high school that they can at least serve them during their junior and senior years."
DRAW OF FREDONIA
Fredonia State has seen an increase in its number of transfer student applications in recent years. The school tries to maintain positive relationships with two-year schools, including JCC, according to SUNY Fredonia Director of Admissions Chris Dearth.
"There's a lot of students who, for one reason or another, just feel more comfortable starting at a two-year school," he said. "It's important that we make the process as painless as possible. Students have a pretty good idea when they get here what's going to transfer in and how many courses they need to complete their degree at Fredonia."
Other students will choose to commute from home to Jamestown Business College in pursuit of an associate or bachelor's degree this fall. The college has seen a steady increase in applications from high-school students during the past five years. According to Brenda Salemme, director of admissions at JBC, the college expects a 15 percent increase in applications this year.
"One of the big draws is that a student can stay home, not have to pay the enormous costs of room and board, and they can get our bachelor degree in 3 years," she said. "It's faster. They can start earning money sooner, so they're marketable sooner."
Approximately 50 percent of high school students who apply to JBC have an interest in the four-year degree offered by the college, which is a Bachelor in Business Administration. Those who graduate with that degree typically seek to move out of the area in pursuit of their master's.
"They can transfer virtually to any college," Salemme said. "We have the same accreditations as any big colleges in our area. Our school is recognized. More bigger colleges are recruiting our associate degree students. I think they might be losing steam on gaining enough students, so they're finding another network to get students for their bachelor."
College can be more affordable than some might think, according to Salemme. Some area residents will qualify for enough financial aid to pay for the entirety of JBC's tuition.
Both Garifi and Salemme cited the importance of students feeling comfortable in a classroom setting as a reason why their colleges attract high-school seniors.
"We're a small college," Salemme said. "We know our students by name. We have a good relationship with our students. I think, sometimes the transition is easier to start at a school where there is a comfort level and then move on to a bigger university. I know at big colleges, it's sometimes easy to get lost in the shuffle."