Dim economy stimulates enrollment on South Florida campuses
By Frank Norton
Amid high unemployment and a dim economy, an increasing number of South Floridians are heading back to school to upgrade their skills, change career paths or simply wait out the storm.
"Historically there's been no question that when the economy is poor adult education rises," said Ed Gillis, associate dean of enrollment and director of admissions at University of Miami.
While undergraduate applications at the University of Miami are rising, Mr. Gillis said, they do not reflect changes in the economy in the same way as graduate and adult-learning programs, which experts say are attracting back-to-schoolers who want to increase their job marketability.
"A couple of years ago students were leaving our programs early to sign bonuses while the job market was advantageous," said Daniel Coleman, vice provost of academic affairs & institutional effectiveness at Florida International University. "Now they're coming back to school because the market is down and some of them don't have jobs anymore."
This year FIU projected only a slight increase in graduate applications for the fall semester, but school officials see heightened interest ahead.
Cathy Morris, who heads institutional research at Miami-Dade Community College, said she has seen a spike in demand from adult learners returning to school.
The college's enrollment of former students was up 18% year over year for the school year ending spring '02 while its continuing workforce education program saw enrollment jump 29%, Ms. Morris said. Projections for the '03 school year are not available.
"Those students are taking more classes than before. And since most of them work, that could be a reflection of less work out there for them," she said.
Nationally, the jobless rate during the past five months has remained essentially unchanged, hovering near 5.9%, where it closed in June and July, the US Labor Department reported last week.
Unemployment has been higher in Miami-Dade County. The rate was 7.2% and 7.5% in May and June respectively, according to the state's Agency for Workforce Innovation.
Keeping in step with those higher rates is M-DCC's growth in return students, which was sharper than its growth in overall credit enrollment, which rose 12% year over year.
Driving growth in return learners is the job market, said Sharron Ronco, assistant provost at Florida Atlantic University.
"I think it's the prospect of getting a good job," Ms. Ronco said. "Students are much more practical today than when I was in school.
"We've seen a major shift over the years in why students attend college, from I want to be a better educated person to I want to get a better job and make more money."