Recession sends college enrollment soaring But money dictates where students go

October 16, 1991|By Patricia Meisol

In yesterday's editions of The Sun, fall enrollment at the Maryland Institute College of Art was reported incorrectly. The Maryland Institute enrolled 942 students this fall, an increase of2.5 percent over 1990, according to school spokeswoman Abigail Lattes. The Maryland College of Art and Design experienced a decline in enrollment of 35 percent, the figure incorrectly attributed to the Maryland Institute.

Amy Addison wanted to go away to college. She was about to pack her bags and head for Frostburg State University when she opened her mail this summer to find a scholarship offer from the University of Baltimore. At the last minute, she decided to stay home in Baltimore.

Among her concerns: The work-study money promised her for the first year at Frostburg to help pay for room and board would dry up in future years because of budget cuts and, in the event of an emergency, the chances were slim that she could count on extra help from her mom, a state employee whose own salary is shrinking because of furloughs.


"I didn't want to have to worry constantly about money if I went to Frostburg," the 20-year-old accounting major said yesterday as she studied in a UB student lounge.

Money -- or lack thereof -- and an uncertain job market influenced the choices of tens of thousands of students this year, the latest enrollment data show, including their decision to enroll in college at all.

The students did -- in droves.

Statewide, enrollment in Maryland two-year community colleges and four-year colleges and universities is up 2.7 percent. The number of students taking classes this semester -- 266,883 -- is the highest in state history.

Data released yesterday by the Maryland Higher Education Commission and officials of the University of Maryland show that more and more students are opting for lower-cost community colleges for the first two years of college. Also, more students are turning to public colleges over more expensive private colleges, and graduate programs are fuller, a sign that people are retooling for jobs they hope might open up when the economy picks up.

It's all happening at a time when Maryland's public campuses have been hit with the largest budget cuts in years, creating faculty shortages and overcrowded classrooms on some campuses.

"We get hit from both sides: We have more students and we get less money," said John Silberman, associate dean of the Merrick School of Business at UB. Colleges typically fill up in a recession but what is unusual about this recession, he said, is that state budgets and higher education budgets have been hit hard, possibly the hardest since World War II.

Enrollment at community colleges is up 4.2 percent statewide this year, with the New Community College of Baltimore reporting a 10 percent increase over 1990. Historically black public campuses are up an average of 9 percent, the sixth consecutive year of growth. Of these, the University of Maryland Eastern Shore led with 16 percent to 17 percent more students, depending on whether state or university figures are used.

Morgan State University is up 7.3 percent. Since 1986, enrollment at the 5,000-student campus in Baltimore has risen 34 percent.

In the 11-campus University of Maryland system, enrollment of traditional freshmen declined again this year, following a 20-year trend. Full-time graduate students grew 9.4 percent. UM enrolls the majority of all college students in the state -- more than 106,000.

While the number of traditional freshmen are down, their places are being taken by older returning students and by people who are out of work and changing careers. Some of the biggest growth this year occurred at schools with a clear career orientation -- cooking schools and business colleges, for instance.

Many, but not all, of the higher-priced private colleges are hurting, state data show. Enrollment at the Maryland Institute, College of Art is down 35 percent, and Washington College, Mount St. Mary's and Western Maryland are reporting declines of between 5 percent and 9 percent. Johns Hopkins University and Goucher College are up, the result of stepped up recruiting and, in the case of Goucher, a new curriculum and scholarship program funded from the college's endowment to attract new students.

Two public campuses reported a slight loss of students -- the University of Maryland College Park and University College, whose tuition is higher than many other public campuses because it gets few state dollars.

In the case of College Park, the decline should have been far greater. The campus was supposed to drop by at least 1,000 students this year as part of a five-year plan to reduce size to improve quality. But university officials said they could not afford to lose the tuition revenue these students bring in, and which the state could no longer afford to replace as it had in past years.

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