Choosing a college is often a juggling act of several factors.
Location usually matters. Available course studies usually matter. The reputation of the school often matters.
But for Heather Traczek, it all boiled down to affordability.
Having just graduated from Margaretta High School, Traczek said she would have liked to enroll at the main campus of Bowling Green State University, but didn't have the money to do so.
It would cost her at least three times more to attend the main campus than it does to attend a branch campus. So she will join many area students flocking to BGSU Firelands this fall.
Enrollment at the college has ballooned in the last year or so. Fall enrollment tallied 2,354 students and spring enrollment climbed to 2,405.
"I would go to the main campus but it would be roughly $18,000 a year and I didn't get any help from financial aid," Traczek said, adding that she is attending BGSU Firelands for about $5,000, almost all of which is being covered by scholarships.
Grant aid declines
College grant money has been on the decline in this country for a long time, said Barbara Straka-Kenning, guidance director at Sandusky High School.
Twenty years ago, colleges offered full-ride scholarships to underprivileged students, covering 100 percent of their tuition and room and board, Straka-Kenning said.
Flash forward to present day and colleges offer much less generous financial aid packages.
"Years ago, honestly, a student could go room, board and tuition through grants meaning the most needy students could go to college and walk out with little or no loans," Straka-Kenning said. "Today, it looks like anywhere between 25 to 50 percent comes out as loans. That's a huge burden for students who are needy."
Though college grants may be on the downswing, the popularity of college seems to be headed in the opposite direction.
Education key for jobs
With the economy in the tank, more high school seniors seem to think higher education and more training is key to finding a job, Straka-Kenning said.
Statistics tell the story.
About 76 percent of Sandusky High School's Class of 2009 plan to attend college this fall. Usually the number hovers at about 60 percent.
Recent graduates are also choosing schools with admission costs in mind.
Of the SHS graduates headed to a four-year university, 82 percent are going to a public college and 87 percent are headed to in-state schools.
As for the SHS graduates headed to a technical or two-year school, two-thirds are enrolling in BGSU Firelands.
There is little doubt in Straka-Kenning's mind why this is the case. She said BGSU Firelands is the cheapest option since students can commute from home and get discounted tuition. The price tag is difficult to pass up.
More Bellevue High School graduates this year also enrolled at BGSU Firelands than in years past, said Jill Mohr, Bellevue High School guidance counselor.
"I think students are opting to do that to save themselves money," she said. "I think we've seen it more and more. But this year, with people losing their jobs and money being tighter, we see it more now."
Many students are also reluctant to enter the job market given its bleak prospects.
"I think they are fearful of the job market," Straka-Kenning said. "They seem to be wise about the fact that they need some level of training to get the jobs that are out there."
Not the only reason
With the lowest tuition among Ohio's regional campuses, BGSU Firelands' appeal is obvious.
But that's not the only reason the college's popularity is on the rise, said BGSU Firelands acting associate dean Andrew Kurtz. Using a Ohio Department of Education dual enrollment grant, Kurtz said the college was able to offer free college credit courses to high school students across this region. This was just one example of the college's renewed focus on recruiting.
"Our involvement in the various high schools has increased dramatically in the last couple of years," Kurtz said. "We're offering more and more classes inside the high schools. ... Students are getting a taste of Firelands even while they are in their high school."
The recruiting seems to be working.
Traczek works two jobs and plans to support herself through college. It'll be tough, but she can manage it.
After all, she said, it's not like she'll have to come up with $18,000 each year.