Prior to attending Malcolm X College on the West Side, freshman Kendall Geanes was planning to attend Ball State University in Indiana on a basketball scholarship.

It was the ideal location for the architectural engineering major to play Division I Basketball and attend a university with a heralded engineering program. But like so many students entering college, Geanes realized he would need to forgo his plans and instead attend a community college in the interim.

“Well, my grade on the ACT was not as good as I would have liked,” he said. “So, I decided to attend Malcolm X College to improve my GPA and become more prepared for the university curriculum.”

Malcolm X College, 1900 W. Van Buren, and other Chicago City Colleges have seen their enrollment increase for the 2008-2009 school year, and community college officials say enrollment has also increased at community colleges statewide.

“We’ve definitely seen the surge of new students,” said Kimberly Hollingsworth, dean of student services at Malcolm X College. “In the spring of 2008, our enrollment increased by 22 percent, and this past fall of 2008 it rose to another 13.1 percent.”

Along with more intense recruitment efforts by the school to target more West Side community students, Hollingsworth attributes the increase to a sagging economy, which has made four-year universities less affordable.

“The economy has helped us as students have found the cost of many universities to be too steep,” Hollingsworth said. Another factor for the enrollment jump is “reverse transfers,” or students having to enroll in community colleges after attending a four-year university.

“Some students go to a four-year college; they get involved with the parties and fraternities that they lose focus on their classes and end up having to leave the school and go to a city college,” said Jerrel Oliver, an MXC sophomore and president of the Student Government Association.

Hollingsworth confirmed that nearly 50 percent of Malcolm X College students are reverse transfers. Along with Geanes, Oliver plays on the Men’s Basketball Team and was also motivated to attend the college to improve his grades.

“I believe the city college is more equipped to work with students looking to improve their grades because they have smaller classes and they will deal with each student individually,” he said. “When you go to a university there are thousands of other students cramped in a lecture hall who get very little opportunity to even talk to their professor. If they have a question, they need to contact the teacher’s assistant and hope that she can squeeze them in. It is much more impersonal. A community college is a lot more one-on-one.”

Oliver added this was the ideal environment for students requiring more attention to excel. And the economy has impacted students in other ways beyond tuition. Theo Williams, a freshman and business management major at MXC, has seen older individuals enroll to refine their skills for today’s more competitive job market.

“I see older people who have been out of school for years but returned due to the economy,” he said. “They might have worked in a factory for years, but those jobs were phased out and they needed to prepare themselves for the new job market. They figure that the city college would be more affordable and allow them to fine-tune their computer skills or take their career in a new direction.”