The recession's running through Norwalk Community College (NCC) in ways both good and bad.

College President David L. Levinson, a Westport resident, provided insight into exactly what that means when he spoke recently to members of Westport Sunrise Rotary.

He said, "2009 is going down as the year of the community college."

There are 1,200 nationwide. And students enrolled in the two-year institutions often hold a part-time job while hitting the books in pursuit of a better education and higher paying positions. On the bargain side of the community college scene: the school bill per year is just about one-tenth it would be in a private school and students live off campus, so they don't have to pay boarding expenses as they would at many four-year schools.

It was the combination of this affordability with the economic fallout that has led to an increase in enrollment at Norwalk Community College. A case in point, which Levinson highlighted to Rotarians via the college's 2009 annual report, is Jeff Peters, a Darien resident.

At his parent's insistance, Peters switched from a $43,000-a -year private college to the $3,200-a-year NCC when the recession severely slashed his family's income, Levinson said.

"At Norwalk Community College, I've been most surprised at the level of commitment the professors have to their students," Peters says in the report. "I strongly believe the education I'm receiving at NCC is on the same level as any place I could go in the future."

"In 2009 as the economy got bleaker, the image of community colleges gained new found luster," Levinson said. "That's because many people who lost their jobs, homes, savings looked for a beacon of hope. They found it at a community college to weather the economic storm and train or re-train for a well-paying job."

"They found value and opportunity," he added.

Or, as stated it in his "President's Message in the report, "For many people who lost their jobs and homes in 2009, the road to recovery ran straight through Norwalk Community College. Enrollment (up 10 percent to 6,685) broke all records and the campus swelled to capacity with students reinventing their lives. NCC became a very full house."

At the same time, though, the NCC budget shrank.

Levinson explained: " Gov. M. Jodi Rell ... asked the community colleges to make a 3 percent budget cut. (For NCC that came to $471,818). At a later date, she asked the two-year colleges for a 2 percent cut. (For NCC that came to $321,000 in reduced funding."

He continued: "The challenge throughout this process was to maintain NCC's high standard of college services and ensure students had the resources they need for success."

To help the college under financial pressure, Levinson said campus-wide belts were tightened another notch. Eligible faculty took advantage of early retirement offers, the college closed on Saturdays and Sundays during the 2009 summer session and, in the spirit of every little bit helps, both sides of paper are used when making copies.