Jefferson City — Demand for a college education seems to be growing in Missouri, as the state's public colleges and universities experienced major enrollment increases during the first week of classes.

The Missouri Department of Higher Education gets official enrollment numbers in October, but preliminary reports show substantial increases, especially in the community college sector.

The Missouri Community College Association, made up of the state's 12 public two-year institutions, released opening day enrollment figures showing an average increase of 12.5 percent.

Crowder College in Neosho led enrollment advances with 4,151 students, an increase of 33.5 percent, followed by Moberly Area Community College with 5,736 students, a 28.2 percent increase. Community colleges in rural areas experienced the largest enrollment increases relative to their student body populations.

Higher Education Commissioner Robert B. Stein speculated that the demand for college is a natural outgrowth of the country?s economic situation.

"In focus groups we conducted in rural and inner city parts of the state this summer, middle and high school students expressed a nearly unanimous desire to go to college," said Stein. "Many told us they have seen their parents struggling economically and they wanted to avoid that by preparing for a high-paying job."

Many adults are also returning to college to gain new skills after being laid off. Stein says community colleges are particularly well-positioned to provide new skill sets to adults.

"Many of the state's community colleges partner with area industries in order to teach knowledge and abilities that are in demand by employers," said Stein. "We are optimistic that the growing demand for college will result in more citizens with a college degree and businesses and industries that want to locate here for that reason."

Opening day enrollment advances at the state's other community colleges compared to last year's census date count include:

Percent Increase<
East Central
North Central
Ozarks Technical
State Fair
Three Rivers
Mineral Area
St. Louis
St. Charles

The challenge to all institutions of higher learning, Stein said, is to retain the students who swell opening day enrollment numbers so they persist to earn a degree. "The factors that discourage students from staying in school may be financial, lack of preparation for college-level work, or many other problems," he said. "All of us who are involved in education must make a commitment to these aspiring students to help them succeed in order to have meaningful benefits to the state."