She’s got one friend entering Washington State University and another headed to Western Washington University.
But North Central High School graduate Tracy Ainsworth said she’s proud to make Spokane Falls Community College her first stop on the road to a four-year degree in early childhood education.
“It’s cheaper, and the courses tend to be the same the first two years at most schools,” Ainsworth said as she prepared for the first day of classes today .
“It’s not going to hurt me any to go to a community college.”
Ainsworth and the 4,100 freshmen entering one of three institutions under the umbrella of the Community Colleges of Spokane are testament to a growing trend on campus - two-year schools are cool.
With the rising costs of a college education and proliferation of course offerings through the community colleges, students are lining up for the low-cost two-year programs. In exchange, they earn transferable credits or quick training for a technical job.
A new marketing survey of Spokane residents, students and employers shows that the schools have shed their image as “junior colleges” or “high schools with cigarettes.”
“There’s evidence of mounting pride that this is ‘our community college,”’ pollster Bill Robinson told 600 faculty members at an orientation day earlier this week.
His company, Robinson Research Inc., was paid $39,000 to survey 1,900 people over the summer on their perceptions of the community colleges.
Robinson found that Spokane believes the community colleges are one of the best education values in the area, drawing quality faculty members and students.
A whopping 95 percent of business owners surveyed reported favorable experiences with community college graduates. In one focus group, Robinson reported, four out of five employers said they would rather save the community colleges than 115-year-old Eastern Washington University.
“A college does not have to project an Ivy League image to be perceived as providing top-quality education,” Robinson wrote in his 41-page report. “Community Colleges of Spokane schools are ideally positioned to occupy the high ground for efficient, affordable education.”
Spokane Community College, the Institute for Extended Learning and Spokane Falls Community College make up the community college system in Spokane. Each has its own identity, Robinson found.
Spokane residents perceive The Falls, located on Fort George Wright Drive, as a liberal arts transfer school, Robinson found. SCC, at Mission and Greene, has an image as a technical vocational school.
The Institute for Extended Learning, however, suffers from a lack of identity, the survey said. Just one third of the respondents claimed ever to have heard of the center for off-campus instruction.
With 10 days left before taking a final student count, the Community Colleges of Spokane on Wednesday had enrolled 4,100 new students, the same count as the stystem ended with last fall.
About 23,000 people take at least one community college course each year, making the system one of the largest centers of higher education in the Inland Northwest.
“At first, I didn’t want to go to The Falls because I thought it would be a put-down,” said Nick Fuller, a wrestling star who earned a 3.89 grade point average at Rogers High School. “But that’s not what it’s about. It’s about succeeding where you can.”
Fuller said he expects his English, chemistry and calculus classes to transfer to a four-year school. He’s living at home to save money for the day when he takes upper-level courses in biology and wildlife preservation.
About 60 percent of all households in Spokane have at least one member who has attended the community colleges, the Robinson survey found. Thousands more learn about the schools from its course-offering catalog which the district mails to 200,000 households four times a year.
“We have so much name recognition, we don’t want to give that up,” said Jennifer Roseman, district director of communications, marketing and development. “It was a little surprising to see the depth of awareness we have in the community.”
Roseman said the community colleges’ image is so positive that administrators have tabled earlier discussions to change the names of the schools, introduce separate logos and make other changes in their identities.
, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color photo
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