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College of DuPage popular destination for 2013 Wheaton public high school graduates

WHEATON – Recent Wheaton public high school graduates are flocking to the College of DuPage by the hundreds, much higher than their private school peers.

According to numbers provided by Wheaton Warrenville South, Wheaton North, St. Francis and Wheaton Academy high schools, at least 300 students are heading to COD out of the 546 graduating seniors of WWS and 562 of WN – almost a third.

In contrast, only nine students from St. Francis and four students from Wheaton Academy chose COD as their college destination.

"The trend line for applications has taken a big upward slant the last few years," said Earl Dowling, the associate vice president of Student Affairs for the Glen Ellyn community college. "Parents are looking at the College of DuPage as part of their financial plans."

Dowling said that he believed that costs have played a major role in the large number of recent applicants, up 13 percent for the fall compared to last year.

"The poor economy, the job market the way it is and all the attention on the possible increase in student loans, you put that together with the big school feel of the College of DuPage, and it becomes a very attractive option," he said.

Federal interest rates on student loans are set to double July 1 due to expiring legislation, and a federal law combating the increase have proven contentious.

Dowling says that while the College of DuPage generally concentrates recruitment locally – "we say we are the 'community's college,'" he said – there has been an increase in applications overall, including out-of-district and international students.

On the part of the disparity between public and private students from Wheaton, Dowling said that it comes down to cost. Annual tuition for Wheaton Academy is $13,420 and $10,450 for St. Francis, not including any financial assistance, according to each school's website.

COD students pay an average of $140 per credit hour, translating to around $4,200 for a full-time student each year, Dowling said.

Trudy Rigney, the director of guidance and counseling at St. Francis, acknowledges the price disparity, but adds St. Francis's reputation for being a college preparatory school attracts both families who are willing and able to pay for education and the mindset of the students who attend.

"One of the prime reasons parents send kids to St. Francis is the education," she said. "The parents, the students and the community are very motivated to attending a four-year college directly from St. Francis. It's a driving force for some of these students."

Rigney called COD "one of the best community colleges in the country," and said that she encourages many of the students she advises to consider places like COD with quality programs to keep costs down.

"College costs are out of control, and many people are very wary of accruing a lot of debt," she said. "College costs just are not sustainable for middle-class families right now."

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