HCC enrollment falls improved economy cited

September 22, 1994|By Lan Nguyen | Lan Nguyen,Sun Staff Writer

Howard Community College's enrollment dropped this fall, after a year in which record attendance strained the college's resources.

According to latest figures, 4,985 students enrolled at the two-year college this fall, down from last year's record 5,053 students, reflecting a decrease in part-time enrollments. Of the students enrolled this year, 3,657 were part-time students, 66 fewer than in the previous year.

Randy Bengfort, the college's public relations director, attributed the decrease to the county's rosier economic picture.

"The drop suggests more people are working and not in a position to go back," he said. "When the economy goes down, our enrollment goes up."

But college officials aren't disappointed.

"The thought of things leveling off is welcomed," Mr. Bengfort said. "The dramatic increases in the last few years have put a strain on resources here -- classroom space, teaching load and everything."

Mr. Bengfort said there are fewer part-time students at the Columbia college, but that the full-time enrollment increased slightly, reflecting a statewide trend of high school graduates looking at two-year colleges as an interim stage before moving to four-year colleges.

Based on a formula that the college uses, there are more students taking a full-time load of at least 12 credits.

Other community colleges in the state also have seen their part-time enrollment drop and full-time enrollment increase, according to preliminary statistics supplied by the colleges to the Maryland Association of Community Colleges.

"Transfer programs are . . . very strong," said Amy Coveyou, the association's research director. "I think that community colleges are more and more becoming the first two years of a four-year education."

The latest statistics from the Maryland Higher Education Commission bear out her observation. The commission reports that two-thirds of the state's college-bound high school graduates attend community colleges before attending four-year colleges.

Cost, proximity

"We think it's because of the cost, because of the proximity to homes, which means they can save the cost of room and board," said Jeff Welsh, commission spokesman. "The quality of instruction is high. Students see they're getting a bargain. They're getting a good education for considerably less money. This is a trend that is nationwide."

Although a final enrollment report will not be completed until early November, some colleges are reporting that their enrollments are down from 1 percent to as much as 7 percent, Ms. Coveyou said.

Enrollment at Essex Community College, for example, is down about 6 percent, to roughly 10,000 students, said Terry Hirsch, acting director of institutional research. She said the decrease was unexpected.

"The mentality is the recession is over, businesses are going to reinstate reimbursement programs, economic conditions seem to be lightning, and things seem to be better," she said. "So we were thinking some of our student enrollment figures were going up."

Tuition increases

Tuition at Essex for the fall semester, which began Sept. 8, is $54 a credit, $4 more than in the spring semester. Tuition at HCC is $71 a credit this school year, up from $66 last year.

"When you expect enrollment to hold steady or go up and it doesn't, I think there's a cause for worry. People want to know why and where," Ms. Hirsch said. "It's hard to know who's not here."

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