Thursday, Aug. 21, 2008

Two-year colleges see rise in enrollment

Four-year institutions in region are growing, but more slowly

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While all area colleges are preparing to see increased foot traffic this fall, two-year colleges are expected to beat four-year schools in enrollment increases this year.

While two-year schools, such as Frederick Community College, are expecting to see an 8 to 10 percent jump in enrollment, four-year colleges are preparing for more moderate increases in their freshmen classes.

College officials attribute the change to a slow economy and the increased financial pressures mounting on families.

"It's absolutely the economy," said Sandy Smith, associate vice president at Frederick Community College. In tight financial times, families are less likely to borrow thousands for four-year college loans, so they are looking at more affordable options offered at community colleges, Smith said.

Last year, Frederick Community College saw a 6.8 percent increase in enrollment, and for the first time in the history of the school, enrollment surpassed 5,000. Officials are expecting the trend to continue this year and are preparing for an enrollment of up to 5,500 students, Smith said.

The new school year at Frederick Community College starts Saturday, but like most other colleges in the area, the school does not expect to have solid enrollment numbers until the third week of classes.

At Carroll Community College, officials are also expecting tighter economic times to translate into enrollment increases this year.

"We've budgeted for 4 to 5 percent increase in enrollments," said Craig Clagett, the school's vice president for planning, marketing and assessment. "I expect that we will do better than that this year."

During the last decade, the college has seen a continuous increase in enrollments. Last year, 3,441 students enrolled at the college, marking a 7 percent increase from the year before, Clagett said.

"We've benefitted from a growing population base, but I think there is more than that," he said.

"The population of county residents who are choosing to go to community colleges has increased."

Local four-year colleges recognize the trend, but say they still expect moderate increases in their enrollments.

John M. Baworowsky, vice president for enrollment management at Hood College, said the school is expecting to increase its freshman class this year.

"We are anticipating about 2,600," he said. "This will be an all-time high."

Enrollment at Hood College has been going up continuously since 2002, when it was just 1,693.

Baworowsky said he expects the slower economy to bring up the number of students pursuing graduate degrees at the school as well.

"When the economy goes down, more people are choosing to go back to college," he said.

Mount St. Mary's University in Emmitsburg is also part of the trend this year, said David Rehm, vice president of academic affairs at the school.

"We are bringing in the fourth-largest incoming class," Rehm said. "It's not as high as last year, but the economic times are tougher."

In a tougher economy, employers are less likely to pay for employees' college education, he said.

"I am not surprised that community colleges are seeing increases," he said.

In effort to help students with financial difficulties this year, the Mount has increased its level of scholarships, Rehm said.

He couldn't specify how much more money the school is giving out this year, but said that 95 percent of students at the school receive some financial help.

"We've planned for these things accordingly," he said. "We continue to work with families to help them pick the best financial aid options."