Kaila Nicholson of Kingston wants to join a SWAT team. Dayanna Martes of Lawrence is studying business. Aja Metcalf of Salem is majoring in exercise science.
The Northern Essex Community College students are looking forward to the day when they can start their new careers — without being burdened with thousands of dollars in student loan debt.
They are among the many college students in Southern New Hampshire and the Merrimack Valley who have decided to attend two-year schools instead of a traditional four-year university.
While they enjoy attending a small school close to home, the chance to save at least $20,000 in tuition, room and board was a major factor in their decision, the students said.
“The money I would have to pay after four years of school seemed so much to me,” said Martes, a 17-year-old freshman.
She even gave up an $18,000 scholarship to Newbury College because it was more affordable for her to live at home and attend NECC, where she received a few smaller scholarships.
Nicholson, who is studying criminal justice, agreed economics played a big role in her decision to attend community college.
“It’s a big difference,” she said of the cost.
Nicholson said she’s now paying roughly $5,000 a year, compared to $30,000 a year.
The sophomore transferred from Southern New Hampshire University after one semester, mostly because she wanted to attend a smaller school where she would receive more individual attention.
“I think it’s a good school and the teachers here are really good,” Nicholson said. “And it’s cheaper.”
NECC, with campuses in Lawrence and Haverhill, has seen a 5 percent increase in enrollment this fall, spokeswoman Ernie Greenslade said.
“I think people are recognizing the value,” she said.
Recession made a big difference
Ever since the recession began several years ago, community college officials in New Hampshire and Massachusetts say they are seeing significant increases in enrollment as students and their families struggle to foot the rising costs of higher education.