Economic turmoil nudges more adults back to school

At 36, Brandy Smith is not only helping her two teenage children get ready for college, she's also poring over course listings and financial aid forms herself.

It's not that she hates her job or has some long-unfulfilled need to get an additional degree. Smith, who lives in Conway, needs that extra nursing certification to boost her salary, because paying the mortgage and buying groceries has been getting tougher every month since her husband was laid off in June.

The number of people enrolling in adult or continuing education programs on the Grand Strand is surging, and school officials say the sorry state of the economy is putting pressures on people like Smith, people who need to earn more, change careers or get certifications to boost their resume and make them more competitive.

"When the economy goes bad, technical and community college enrollment goes up, and ours is no exception," said Pierce McNair, the executive assistant for external affairs with the S.C. Technical Education Association.

HGTC expects enrollment to jump almost 11 percent this spring to about 6,300 students. That's more than the school enrolled in the fall, which traditionally sees bigger classes. "The numbers are off the charts," college spokesman Greg Thompson said.

In the fall, technical colleges statewide saw a 7 percent rise in enrollment, said Russ Bumba, the senior manager for student services with the state system.

Many adults are enrolling in courses in the industrial or maintenance fields, but school officials say they're seeing some of the biggest numbers in the health fields, where classes have waiting lists.

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