RCTC offers good choices on value menu
In an ideal world, college students would take 15 or 16 credits worth of classes per semester, graduating in four years. They'd have a part-time job during the school year, working 10 hours per week for pizza and gas money — thus leaving plenty of time for their studies and an active social life. During the summer, they'd work full time, perhaps landing a career-related internship between their junior and senior years or spending at least one summer abroad.
Unfortunately, few students are able to follow that path today — not with the average student loan debt topping $24,000 for this year's graduates. We'd be hard-pressed to define a "typical" college experience in 2011, but we know that it involves a lot of part-time employment — or even full time, in many cases. According to the U.S. Department of Education, 78 percent of full-time undergraduates work while they're enrolled, spending an average of 30 hours per week earning a paycheck. Fully one-fourth of full-time students also are working full time.
As a result, they're spending less time preparing for their future careers. A 2010 study by researchers at the University of California found that in 1961, the average full-time college student spent 40 hours per week attending class or studying. By 2003, that number had fallen to 27 hours, and there's no reason to expect that the trend line has changed over the past eight years.
So, although enrollment at Rochester Community and Technical College appears to be down slightly this year, we're convinced that this is a short-term blip in what has been a promising growth curve.
RCTC has turned itself into the educational equivalent of a 24-hour a la carte cafeteria. Students choose only the classes they want and/or need. They can attend during the day, at night or online. And the prices on the "menu" — especially for part-time students — are roughly half what they'd pay at four-year state colleges or universities.
Make no mistake: This is no-frills education. An 18-year-old who lives with Mom and Dad misses out on some things that make college great. Ditto for the students who earn most of their credits online.
But whether they're teenagers using RCTC as a stepping stone to another school, or mid-lifers preparing for a career change, RCTC students get a lot of bang for their educational bucks.