SARANAC LAKE -The good news keeps rolling in for the nation's community colleges.
President Barack Obama recently announced his "American Graduation Initiative," a 10-year plan that invests $12 billion in two-year institutions. The plan would be funded by eliminating wasteful subsidies to banks and private student loan providers.
Newly-appointed State University of New York Chancellor Nancy Zimpher visited North Country Community College's Saranac Lake campus last week. She says that the state's two-year schools should submit a group application to try and acquire a portion of that federal money.
"I'm hoping that the State University of New York and its 30 community colleges can put in an omnibus proposal to capture a sizeable number of those funds," Zimpher said. "I think it would be regrettable if we went after those funds one campus at a time when we could get a bigger share if we lifted up the whole system as a coordinated effort. I think the Obama administration would like to see that kind of coordination."
The $12 billion will be utilized in three ways. $9 billion will fund what are known as "challenge grants." Zimpher says challenge grants allow community colleges to try out new programs and expand existing training and counseling services. $2.5 billion goes to infrastructure and the improvement of campus facilities. The final $500 million is for the expansion of online education opportunities.
And while increased federal funding is welcomed news to administrators like Zimpher, news of ever-increasing enrollment at community colleges across the country is even better.
Historically, economic downturns have lent to increased enrollment at two-year institutions. In Saranac Lake, North Country Community College is looking at a substantial enrollment increase - with 30 percent more students enlisted for this fall compared to last year.
But Zimpher said there are other factors at play besides economics.
"People are making career changes and these are a lot of young adults, not necessarily the 18 to 21 year old but the 22 year old to 35 year old who either needs to return to the work force to be the second earner in the family or needs to re-skill, re-tool," Zimpher said.
"Or, we're told, that these generations that follow us are going to have multiple careers," she added. "People are just deciding to do something different and they are applying back to our community colleges at an incredibly high rate."
And if institutions like North Country can continue expanding and improving upon programming, Zimpher expects those figures to keep rising even after the nation's economy recovers.