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Local higher education enrollment up

November 24, 2008|by ANDREW SCHOTZ

WASHINGTON COUNTY -- For the second straight fall, enrollment at the University System of Maryland at Hagerstown has increased by 15 percent.

Executive Director C. David Warner III said the downtown campus is growing after a rough start.

Hagerstown Community College's enrollment numbers also are up this semester - about 4 percent higher than last fall, following increases of 3 percent in fall 2007 and 2 percent in fall 2006.

Jennifer Fisher, HCC's director of admissions, records and registration, said interest in community colleges rises when the economy falters. To compete for jobs, more people look for new training or skills, she said.

Fisher said HCC is getting more students ages 19 to 22 and those taking college classes while still in high school.

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The college's enrollment for online courses jumped 46 percent this semester, HCC spokeswoman Beth Stull said.

Among other Tri-State universities, enrollment was up 3 percent at Shippensburg (Pa.) University and less than 1 percent at Shepherd University in Shepherdstown, W.Va., for the fall 2007 semester. Shepherd's enrollment has increased by 1.6 percent over last year's enrollment to a credit head count of 4,185 students, the university announced in October.

The comparisons at each school, using total head count, were made from fall to fall, which officials said was more accurate than comparing fall semesters to spring semesters.

Budget battle

The viability of the USM-H campus became a focal point during this year's Maryland General Assembly session as state legislators battled over its funding.

A Southern Maryland delegate tried to take away USM-H's fiscal year 2009 budget and have it distributed among several higher-education centers throughout the state, with USM-H getting a share. The maneuver ultimately was overturned and 95 percent of the funding was restored during state budget negotiations.

The delegate, John M. Bohanan Jr., D-St. Mary's, said at the time that he was trying to correct a funding inequity that hurts non-USM centers.

Supporters of the Hagerstown campus argued that non-USM centers operate differently and can't be fairly compared to USM-H.

Even after most of its budget was restored, USM-H cut five of its 18 employees over the summer because enrollment lagged below projections.

USM-H has 455 students in the fall 2008 semester, according to figures Warner recently provided.

That's 15 percent higher than the fall 2007 semester, when enrollment was 396.

From fall 2006 to fall 2007, enrollment also rose 15 percent.

State Sen. Donald F. Munson, R-Washington, who helped fight to restore USM-H's funding, said the enrollment gains show that more people are noticing the campus and seeking a good education.

"I think this campus is going to continue to grow," Munson said. "In the next five to seven years, I'd expect it to explode."

Warner said USM-H started slowly when it opened in January 2005 and even lost ground.

Enrollment dropped from 356 students in the fall 2005 semester to 344 in the fall 2006 semester before rising the next two falls.

USM-H's full-time equivalent enrollment - a measure based on converting total credit hours into full-time schedules - stayed about the same for a few semesters, then jumped 37 percent from fall 2006 to fall 2007.

After starting with three schools in the University System in January 2005, the campus added three more schools by the end of 2007.

The number of programs increased from 12 to 19.

"All of it contributes to the growth," Warner said.

Last year, the campus met the University System's goal of 232 full-time-equivalent students.

For 2008-09, the University System raised the goal about 18 percent, but USM-H has a good chance of reaching it, Warner said.

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