County college making it irresistible to area's top students

| 28 Sep 2011 | 02:15

    SUSSEX COUNTY-Megan Godfrey is exactly the kind of high achieving student that Sussex County Community College wants to attract. She not only gets good grades, she's also smart about her educational choices. Facing eight years of college, she knew she had to make it as affordable as possible. "It doesn't get any cheaper than for free," said Godfrey, one of SCCC's incoming freshmen who will get five semesters' tuition and fees paid in full by the New Jersey STARS program. In this first year of the statewide program to steer top high school students to community colleges throughout the state, SCCC has 20 STARS students enrolled this fall. They are among the roughly 3,200 students who this year have broken enrollment records at SCCC. "I'm optimistic that this is going to have a dramatic impact on the college," said Dr. Bradley Gottfried, president of SCCC. "We're getting top-notch students without STARS, but this is just another opportunity." The college opened its fall semester on Tuesday. Exact enrollment figures were not available, since the college accepts new students through the first full week of school. Dr. Gottfried said he expects fall enrollment to "shatter the 3,000 mark." Last semester enrollment was just under 3,000. New Jersey STARS, short for Student Tuition Assistance Reward Scholarship, was signed into law by Gov. James McGreevey last June. Under the program, the state pays full tuition and fees at community colleges for all New Jersey seniors who graduate in the top 20 percent of their high school classes. Five semesters of up to 15 credits each are paid in full under the program. Godfrey, of Frankford, graduated 15th in her class of about 100 students at the Sussex County Technical School. She plans to be a chiropractor, major in pre-med at SCCC, then transfer to a four-year-college. Sussex Tech's concurrent enrollment program in conjunction with SCCC allowed her to earn 12 college credits in English and social studies before she even left high school. Besides the financial aspect, Godfrey said she is looking forward to attending SCCC for other reasons. "I can play on the softball team and be involved in the school," said Godfrey, a softball, basketball and tennis player who was the 2004 scholar athlete at Sussex Tech. "And it's close to home, so I can keep with my family." Keeping top high school students in New Jersey is one of the goals of the STARS program, said Gottfried. According to the college president, there were some 350 Sussex County students eligible for the STARS program, but the law was passed in late June, when many graduating seniors had already committed to attend other schools. Gottfried said the college will launch a campaign this fall, to let this year's juniors and seniors know about the program, and he expects Fall 2005's enrollment to show an increase in students who take advantage of STARS. The program is funded by $10 million in this year's state budget, which can pay for 9,000 students statewide to earn associate's degrees, according to state officials. Gottfried said SCCC's enrollment is not only on the rise, its average age is dropping. In the past, SCCC attracted more non-traditional students and the average age of an SCCC student was about 30. Today, that age is in the low 20s and a higher number of incoming students are right out of high school, Gottfried said. This year's SCCC students are seeing more than a few changes on campus. The new library and science building is completed and several existing buildings have been renovated. Old library space in B Building has been renovated and turned into art classrooms, studios and an art gallery. Student Services have moved up from the basement of B Building into newly renovated offices. The cafeteria has been renovated and modernized and a game room has been added. The shift will allow more classrooms to be opened throughout campus, as renovations continue, Gottfried said.