WESTMINSTER -- When half of Carroll County undergraduates go away to college in the fall, they won't even cross the county line.
They won't really go away at all. They'll go to Carroll Community College, which is attracting undergraduates at about the same rate as more established independent community colleges around the state, according to figures from the Maryland Higher Education Commission.
That means they're also attracting at least as many freshman as four-year colleges now, and that could increase, said Executive Dean Joseph F. Shields.
"I think it will likely be more," he said. "That's a national trend. As we get more students graduating from high school in Carroll County, the college enrollment and programs will grow. We're still the most cost-effective and reasonable education around."
According to the Maryland Higher Education Commission, Carroll Community College and Catonsville Community College together draw 2,842 students -- 53 percent of all Carroll undergraduates seeking higher education in the state.
Only a few hundred of those 2,842 undergraduates are going to Catonsville. For the Carroll campus alone, the figure is 46.5 percent, said Robert Lynch, director of institutional research at Catonsville Community College.
The two colleges are reported under Catonsville, because the state doesn't recognize branch campuses in its listings. The Carroll campus is still operating as a branch of Catonsville while it pursues independence.
After Carroll/Catonsville Community College, the next closest draw is Towson State University, which draws 11.6 percent of Carroll's college students. Others that draw more than 3 percent are: Western Maryland College, 4.3 percent; University of Maryland Baltimore County, 6.3 percent; and College Park, 3.7 percent; and Villa Julie College, 3.3 percent.
In most counties, community colleges enroll about half the undergraduates whose official residence is in those counties, said Jeffrey Welsh, public information officer for the Higher Education Commission.
"Community colleges have changed over the years," Mr. Welsh said. "They've gone from schools that tended to focus on job-oriented training and avocational careers to the institutions that provide a very credible set of courses, on a par with four-year institutions."
Community colleges are able to offer some of the same courses as four-year colleges, but for much less money -- half the cost of state schools.
The community colleges can do that because they have lower costs in other ways, Mr. Welsh said. For example, they don't sponsor research, or offer higher-level courses that often require much smaller classes. Also, instructors' salaries are generally lower.
Still, Mr. Welsh said, many students are finding they can fulfill some early requirements for less money at a community college, then transfer before their junior year for more advanced classes at a four-year institution.
Mr. Shields said that while the community colleges are drawing half the freshmen, they are still getting only 15 percent of total state funding for higher education, and those dollars are shrinking.
Community colleges do, however get some funding from their county governments. For example, Carroll County is paying for the $3 million multipurpose building going up on the campus along Route 32 in Westminster.
The third source of funding is tuition, which for Carroll is $48 a credit hour, up from $37 the previous year. The reason for the increase was the loss in state funding, said Mr. Shields.
This year, after state cuts, the college's revised operating budget is funded by 21 percent state money, 37 percent county and 42 percent student fees, said Alan Schuman, director of administration at Carroll.