High school graduates still "go away to college," but, more and more, "away" means not that far. For the grinning seniors proudly wearing their caps and gowns this graduation season, along with their beaming parents, these difficult economic times require the most bang from the college tuition buck.
For many, that will mean a community college instead of a four-year college or an in-state institution rather than one out of state.
The community college option has recently exploded in popularity. No longer the stepchildren of academia, community colleges are emerging as the "go-to" choice for more and more high school graduates.
The Community College of Baltimore County has seen the student population at its three main campuses rise steeply in recent years. Last September, CCBC enrollment was up 10 percent from the fall of the previous year. Enrollment was up 27 percent from 2007 to 2010.
One reason for the rise in popularity, of course, is the price tag. The annual cost of tuition and fees for a full-time student at CCBC is $3,052. At Towson and Morgan State universities, both state institutions, it's more than double that. As for private schools, the College of Notre Dame costs $28,350 annually, according to its website.
Another factor is the emerging parallel enrollment program, which permits high school students in their senior year to take college-credit courses at CCBC. Potentially, these students can earn more than a semester of college credits while still in high school.
Teens who get a head start on college through parallel enrollment at CCBC will also sometimes find community college an engaging experience, one they want to continue after graduating from high school.
And then there is financial aid. When parents sit down at the table with their college-bound seniors, one look at the aid packages available shows that, usually, considerably more is available for Marylanders who choose to attend college in Maryland.
Fortunately, students choosing to pursue their higher education close to home are not taking a step down. Maryland, with a work force among the most highly educated in the nation, also has some of the finest colleges and universities in the nation.
College-bound or not, high school seniors in Baltimore County have reasons for pride in their school district. Baltimore County Public Schools can boast the fourth highest graduation rate among the nation's 50 largest school districts, according to Education Week. The county's Class of 2008 had a graduation rate of 77.8 percent. The national rate is 71.7 percent.
Starting college is a big step. Luckily for Baltimore County's graduating seniors, it need not be a geographically distant step.