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Career schools, colleges see 'steady growth' in enrollment

James Fye has good reasons for attending a technical-career school in his hometown of Greensburg.

"First, I'm a hands-on learner," said Fye, 19. "Second, I think this will get me a job. I'm a see-and-do type."

He enrolled in Triangle Tech to study refrigeration, heating, ventilation and air conditioning. Three months into a 16-month course of study, Fye said he hopes to be working shortly after graduation for a commercial or residential developer.

At a cost of $33,000, schooling is not inexpensive, but Fye said it's worth it.

According to a 2011 study by the Pennsylvania Association of Private School Administrators, "six of the top 10 fastest-growing occupations in Pennsylvania require at least some post-secondary education."

The study noted "steady growth" at Pennsylvania career colleges and schools, with enrollment up 52 percent since 2000.

Community colleges report more and more students enrolling as well.

David Hoovler, a spokesman for the Community College of Allegheny County, said that from fall 2006 to fall 2011, the number of 18- and 19-year-old students attending CCAC increased 9 percent, from 3,606 to 3,937.

Students ages 30 to 34 were the fastest-growing age group, at 34 percent. The 50 to 64 age group increased 21 percent.

"The greater growth in the older segments may be attributed to the economic climate, with more people choosing CCAC for retraining or additional education to get or keep a job," Hoovler said.

That typically happens when the economy hits the skids, said Randy Finfrock, director of statistical research at Westmoreland County Community College. The recession and its aftermath caused enrollment at WCCC to jump from 6,700 in 2008 to 7,300 in 2010, Finfrock said. Yet, he attributed most of the increase to an influx of students just out of high school.

At Community College of Beaver County, enrollment from 2007 through 2011 of recent high school graduates climbed from 11 percent to 16 percent of the total student population, said Brian Hayden, the school's director of institutional research.

What's going on behind all the numbers?

Jessica Linn, 19, of Elizabeth, a student at CCAC's South Campus, said being able to live at home was the deciding factor in her choice of a school. She and her mother are close, she said.

A criminal justice major, Linn said, she will aim to earn a bachelor's degree from Indiana University of Pennsylvania and attend IUP-CCAC collaborative criminal justice classes at CCAC's Boyce Campus for two years.

Jesse Simmons, 18, an accounting major from Bethel Park, said he went to CCAC because it's cheaper than a four-year school.

Not having to pay college room and board by remaining under his parents' roof helps, Simmons said, noting that he intends to transfer to a four-year school after a "year or two" at the West Mifflin campus.

A full-time student at CCAC pays $1,432 a term.

According to Hoovler, "Compared to four-year colleges and universities in the region, CCAC students save an average of $19,000 over two years at a public institution and $51,000 over two years at a private institution."

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