MINNEAPOLIS -- Annette Von Vett's friends couldn't believe it when she chose to attend a community college to avoid the soaring tuition costs at the four-year schools that accepted her.

"Annette," they told her, "you're better than that; you don't want to go over there."

Now, however, with scholarships, financial aid and work study, the cost of Von Vett's two years at Anoka-Ramsey Community College has almost been covered. That will make her fall start at the University of Minnesota's College of Pharmacy -- where tuition and fees will reach at least $14,000 in tuition and fees -- a bit less stressful.

Von Vett's decision is becoming more common. As tuition is going up at four-year schools, so is interest in two-year schools, according to high school counselors and community college administrators.

Tuition and fees at a community college average about $3,000 this year, compared with about $3,800 at state universities and $7,116 at the University of Minnesota's Twin Cities campus.

The interest is helping to replace the stereotype of community colleges as blue-collar, second-chance institutions with a new image as affordable alternatives with small classes and accessible teachers that provide a good foundation for four-year degrees.


"I don't see any reason to pay $8,000 for classes I can get here for $3,000," said Elsa Karman, a Normandale Community College student who will enter the University of Minnesota in the fall as a junior majoring in political science.

Patrick Johns, president of Anoka-Ramsey, said two-year schools have long carried the stigma as being a last resort. But, he said, "that's changing as more of these students come here and word spreads."

At Normandale in Bloomington, the average age of students has fallen from 27 to 24 in the past six years. At Anoka-Ramsey, the average age was 27 for years until dropping to 23 last fall. While more high school students are taking college classes, the proportion of traditional-age freshmen is also rising.

"We're going head to head with four-year schools to recruit those students," said David Mathieu, Normandale's vice president of academic and student affairs. "We're courting high school counselors a lot. ... We emphasize that people can get a wonderful education, and by the way, it doesn't cost too much."

Some students enroll late in their senior year of high school after being admitted to a four-year school but receiving financial aid packages that fall short of expectations.

"Every year we get 100 or so students who suddenly realize they can't handle it," said Ralph Anderson, Normandale's dean of students. "We've seen more and more of that in the last three or four years."

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