There's not exactly a rush of good news across economically stressed America - unless you work at one of our 1,200 community colleges. For most of them, everything's rosy.
Once dismissed as lowly junior colleges and commuter schools in urban areas where students could walk or take public transit to class, these two-year colleges are attracting tens of thousands of students who would normally enroll in four-year private or state universities.
By living at home, they will spend $4,500 a year in tuition, on average. That's half the typical cost at a four-year state school, and a fraction of a private university's $26,000-average annual tuition. Adding room and food charges and fees at renowned universities can boost the bill as high as $50,000 a year!
The Washington Post reports that even exceptional students are enrolling in community schools in record numbers. Community colleges' honors programs, usually half-empty, have, in the Post's words, exploded. There's often a waiting list.
Recently, too, President Obama directed more than $12 billion in federal stimulus money to community colleges for programs in which older workers train students in practical job skills. And just last week, the foundation backed by Microsoft founder Bill Gates and his wife, Melinda, pledged another $13 million to upgrade technology at selected community schools.
The New York Times reports that the clamor to get into community colleges has grown so strong that many have had to plow new, auxiliary parking lots; rent extra classroom space; and offer night classes running as late as 2:30 in the morning, just to fit everyone in.
They aren't Harvard, but again, $4,500 tuition is less than one-tenth of the total cost of an Ivy League school.