Community College Enrollment Is Up Nationwide, Maryland Numbers Are Encouraging

New data shows that community college enrollment is up nationwide for the first time in a decade and by 8 percent in Maryland.

According to the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center, community college enrollment nationwide rose for the first time in over a decade this spring. The Maryland Association of Community Colleges (MACC) says this is true for Maryland, with signs of modest increases compared to recent semesters.

Community college enrollment across the country rose half a percentage from the year before after falling 8.2 percent and 10.1 percent in 2022 and 2021, respectively.

According to the data, as reported by Axios:

  • Enrollment in public two-year colleges rose after the 2008 economic recession but started trending downwards in 2010 and plummeted during the pandemic, according to NSC data.
  • The majors at two-year institutions that saw increases this spring include Computer and Information Sciences and Support Services (9.7%), Mechanic and Repair Technologies/Technicians (8.2%), Personal and Culinary Services (9.7%) and Transportation and Materials Moving (11.8%).

MACC noted Maryland’s community college enrollment trajectory in a recent newsletter:

In the fall of 2022, Maryland’s community colleges saw an 8%* enrollment increase among first-time, full-time community college students, despite a small decline of 2% in overall enrollment. Now, 2023 has brought more promising enrollment news for Maryland’s community colleges.

In February 2023, projections from the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center suggested that both two- and four-year Maryland postsecondary institutions might be poised for a turnaround by fall 2023. Their data showed that Maryland’s college and university spring 2023 enrollments were still down, but had improved since the 2022 spring semester.

By spring 2023, Maryland’s community colleges did see enrollments for several colleges inch up and they’ve grown steadily since then. Summer enrollments showed small but almost segment-wide gains at our 16 community colleges; and fall enrollment numbers look very promising, although still preliminary.

The role of dual enrollment

Some modest increases in community college enrollment nationwide this year “may be attributed to a rising number of younger students participating in dual-degree programs, per the data.” Nationwide,  dual-enrolled high school students increased by 8 percent during the 2023 spring term.

Several Maryland counties have increased support for dual enrollment programs, including waiving high school students’ tuition to their local community college. MACC agrees that this has helped Maryland’s community college enrollment:

Dual enrollment has also contributed to overall enrollment growth at Maryland’s community colleges. Dual-enrollment students are simultaneously enrolled in both high school and college.

Additionally, the Blueprint for Maryland’s Future — the state’s landmark education reform law — will eventually allow dually enrolled high school students to attend community college tuition-free. Local school districts must cover a discounted rate of 75% of the cost for these students, although some agreements cover 100%. The Blueprint also removes the cap that formerly limited the number of college credits high school students could earn. High schoolers can even earn an associate degree if desired.

Access the MACC newsletter.

Read the full Axios reporting.