Montgomery College saw a slight decline in its fall enrollment this year in what a spokeswoman called a “leveling off.” Previously, during a recession, there was a boom in enrollment, she said.
Total fall enrollment at the college — which has Rockville, Germantown and Takoma Park/Silver Spring campuses — is down about 4.7 percent compared to last fall’s enrollment, according to Sept. 18 enrollment data from the college’s website.
Elizabeth Homan, the college’s director of communications, said the college has experienced growth over the last decade and record enrollment during the past couple years.
“We’re seeing that level off this year,” she said. “We recognize that once the economy changes, that can impact our enrollment.”
More than 26,000 students enrolled in for-credit classes at the college this fall, Homan said, though she added the number is not yet official. Enrollment is also expected to grow during the spring semester, she said.
Homan said the fall enrollment numbers are close to what the college saw in fiscal 2011.
According to the online fall enrollment report, the college’s Rockville campus is down 6 percent in unduplicated students, its Germantown campus is down 4 percent and its Takoma Park/Silver Spring campus is down 0.8 percent.
The slight decline comes after the college had its highest fall enrollment of nearly 27,500 for-credit students last year.
Montgomery College had the highest undergraduate fall enrollment in the state with nearly 27,000 for-credit students in fall 2011.
Similar to the experience of community colleges around the country, Homan said, Montgomery College saw an increase in enrollment during the recession as students turned to more affordable college opportunities.
In fiscal 2009, annual enrollment rose to about 35,600 students in for-credit classes and in fiscal 2010 rose to about 37,500.
“It changes an individual’s mindset when you’re dealing with an economic recession versus a more robust economy,” she said.
Homan said the college is renewing its focus to retention of its students.
Bernard Sadusky, executive director of the Maryland Association of Community Colleges, said that — with the exception of one or two schools — community colleges are generally seeing a decline in their enrollment this fall.
Last year, Sadusky said, statewide community college enrollment was generally flat or slightly down after about five years of “unprecedented growth.”
This year, average enrollment is down about 3 percent from last year, he said.
Sadusky said he thought one of a couple reasons for the enrollment decline is tied to the fact that “the economy seems to be picking up.”
“For us, that has the opposite effect on enrollment,” he said — an inverse relationship that has existed for the past few decades.
Yet Montgomery College students’ requests for financial aid are not mirroring the enrollment trend.
Melissa Gregory, the college’s financial aid director, said that for each of the past five years the college has seen between 15 and 20 percent increases in financial aid requests.
As of around mid-September, the college was still up about 5 percent in its financial aid applications.
The college offers its own financial aid and participates in a variety of financial aid programs, including the federal Pell Grant program as well as state programs.
“Things may be bouncing back, but family incomes are not as high as they were before,” she said.
Montgomery County has a “fairly high median income,” Gregory said, but many families still fall in the low-income scale.
“Either we’re attracting more low-income families or more families are becoming lower income,” she said.