That hasn't happened in Maryland, but some programs cannot meet demand and are reporting the types of acceptance rates usually associated with exclusive private colleges. Anne Arundel Community College's training program for physician assistants accepted only 40 out of 300 qualified applicants. The college's nursing program routinely receives twice as many applicants as it can accept.
"Health care is the only part of the economy that's growing," said Claire Smith, dean of the college's School of Health Professions. "People see our programs as a guarantee for jobs."
That desire for specific career help is common among students flowing toward community colleges.
"They have limited time, and they want to see very clearly what job lies at the end of the line," said Faith Harland-White, director of continuing education at Anne Arundel Community College. "I think people are literally looking in the paper for the jobs that are available and then for the quickest way to get the training they need."
Whether they want to become cooks or experts at weatherizing a house, career changers are looking for some certainty.
In response, Harland-White said, the college tries to integrate information on available jobs and starting salaries into each course regimen. Some students show up knowing only how much income they need to survive. In those cases, one-on-one counselors help them settle on fields of study.
If a need arises in the job market, community colleges move quickly to meet it with training programs.
Earlier this year, Obama said he wanted all medical records to be computerized by 2014. Within a month, Anne Arundel Community College had created a training program for record technicians. Twenty-two students will start training this fall.
After a Prince George's County boy died of a tooth infection, CCBC created a training program for dental hygienists with a state-of-the-art lab at its Dundalk campus. When federal grant money became available to train air traffic controllers, the college bought $1.7 million in simulator equipment and started churning them out.
"Community college is the new graduate school," Kurtinitis said. "If there's a viable market need, we should be meeting it. We want our graduates to walk right into high-paying jobs."
Projected enrollment increase
from fall 2008
to fall 2009
Community College of Baltimore County: 20 percent
Howard Community College: 12 percent
Harford Community College: 10 percent
Community College: 10 percent
Anne Arundel Community College: