POPLAR BLUFF, MO (KFVS) - Enrollment is up this year at Southern Illinois University, Murray State University, Southeast Missouri State University, and Three Rivers Community College.
A rise in people going to college is a trend across the Heartland and colleges are filling up. Students, counselors, and admissions officials say this growth is a good thing.
For first generation college students like Kevin Farley and Martwan Hill, a brighter future is reason enough get higher education.
"I didn't want to have to struggle like my parents did, so I figured this is the best way to get a job," Farley, a SEMO student, said.
"If you want to be successful at something, you have to go to the next level," Hill, a Three Rivers student, said.
Other students have the same idea.
"Some people, if they don't have a college degree, they don't even have a chance for," Jacob Compas, a SEMO student, said.
Murray state has seen enrollment growth over the last three years. At SIU, they're also reaching record-breaking numbers. Also, at SEMO, enrollment reached more than 12,000 students for the first time in school history.
However, it's not only four-year colleges that are seeing an uptick in enrollment.
"We find that a lot more people are starting to come to college especially since you can't just have a high school diploma and get a really good job afterwards," Three Rivers Student Recruiter Zach McAnulty said.
McAnulty said that growth is great and there's still space for more students.
"Every time you guys keep on coming in, we keep expanding," McAnulty said.
Admissions workers at SEMO and Murray State say they're planning for more students as well.
Meantime, high school kids and counselors say it is important that younger students are planning, too.
"I started thinking about college my ninth grade year," Mark Jones, a Sikeston High School student, said.
"We start our groups with sophomores and work our way up to seniors," Sikeston High School Counselor Kim Thornbrough said.
Thornbrough said more students are able to go to college now because of scholarships, financial aid and community college options.
"Seeing that it is possible to go without leaving college without a ton of student loan debt," Thornbrough said.
The numbers prove the cost is worth it. According to the Economic Policy Institute, Americans with four-year college degrees made 98 percent more an hour on average in 2013 than people without a degree.
That's why current students have a message for others.
"Let them know that it's a really good idea and if you don't, it'll be really hard finding a job most likely," Compas said.
This week high school students from across the Heartland are visiting Three Rivers Community College to learn more about financial options for attending college and tour the campus. Monday through Wednesday it is Raider Preview Days. According to McAnulty, nearly 1,000 high school students will attend to find out what college is all about.