Community Colleges Boom in Recession

To keep student costs lower, 92 percent of all these institutions have increased financial assistance, according to association spokesman Tony Pals.

"We have been very aggressive in making sure they can increase student aid," Pals told ABCNews.com, emphasizing the "value" of a four-year college that other studies show students who attend four-year colleges are more likely to excel and eventually graduate.

Some private colleges are also offering innovative ways to cut costs. This fall, at Hartwick College in Oneonta, N.Y., students will be able to cut their costs by getting a degree in three years instead of four, saving more than $40,000 on the eventual diploma.

Still, Hartwick's total price tag next year will be 3.9 percent higher -- at $41,550, an amount many in this new economy will not be able to afford.

Older Students Seek Degrees

William "Stuart" Mills dreams of one day getting his bachelor's degree in social work or communications at a four-year college. But for now, with four children, he says community college fits the bill nicely.

At 34, Mills always regretted that he had dropped out of high school. Without an education, he was relegated to manual labor, in construction, and automotive and restaurant work.

"I was expressing to my oldest son the importance of graduating when he was 12 or 13 and it came back to bite me in the rear end," Mills told ABCNews.com.

A little more than a year ago, he completed an external diploma program. Now, he will be the first in his family to attend college and has enrolled in the general studies program at Wor-Wic.

Disabled since 2000 with a back injury, he supports his family on a limited income.

"I am tired of saying to my kids, 'You can't get that $50 pair of shoes,'" he said. He hopes the associate's degree will eventually lead to a bachelor's degree at a four-year college.

"I am thankful for the opportunity in my mid-30s and to be in school and I think my wife is proud of me," Mills said. "But there are a lot of obstacles in my way between now and then. I had to skip class yesterday because my son broke his leg and my wife is ill and starts chemotherapy soon."

"But my instructors are a great bunch of people and they've been really supportive," he said. "I have a lot of optimism as far as my education and prospects of getting a job."

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