Sandra Kurtinitis, president of the Community College of Baltimore County, said from 2007-11 enrollment soared. School officials said they expect a 2 percent change — either up or down — this year. MHEC figures last year said the college was down 4.1 percent from the previous year.

Howard Community College is projecting a slight enrollment increase for the new school year.

"This is not like those really robust numbers we had during the recession," said HCC President Kate Hetherington, "but one of the good things is that those people who came during the recession and got skills are now, with an improving — though slow — economy [are] going back to work."

Hetherington said HCC's enrollment has either increased or been level. She said that's attributed to many factors, one of which was the opening on the school's Health Sciences Building, which she said creates more pathways to jobs.

Harford Community College officials said the school expects enrollment figures to be within 1 percent of last fall. Carroll Community College President Dr. Faye Pappalardo said enrollment numbers for the fall "are still too preliminary to share."

Declining high school pool

The leveling off in community college enrollment is trending nationally, according to Nichols from the Maryland Higher Education Commission.

The economy is improving — lessening the demand for working adults to return to school for additional skills — and changes in federal Pell Grant eligibility are having an effect, he said. Those changes reduce students' eligibility to receive the grant from 18 full-time semesters to 12 full-time semesters, beginning last fall.

MHEC is working to address the fact that fewer high school graduates, particularly those from lower-income backgrounds, will be prepared academically for college or able to afford it, Nichols said. The state also is worried about a declining population of high school graduates over the next decade, he said.

"We're seeing a lot of students coming into higher education that, unlike past years, will have less money and will be less able to afford higher education," Nichols said. "And a lot of them are going to be less prepared for college."

Nichols said community colleges are feeling the brunt of a smaller high school graduate pool because they're a "primary access point" to higher education for many students from lower-income backgrounds.

Enrollment declines also impact community college budgets. At Anne Arundel Community College, tuition and fees make up 40 percent of the school's operating budget — so the 9 percent decline means Anne Arundel expects to have $4 million less than anticipated.

Lindsay said the college will make up for the loss by leaving vacant positions open or trimming adjunct faculty, and vowed that no programs would be cut as a result of the decrease.

"Any kind of adjustments we will make," Lindsay said, "are as far from the classroom as possible."

This story has been updated to correct inaccurate information about the federal Pell Grant program and to clarify Nichols' comments about lower-income students. The Baltimore Sun regrets the errors.

Community College Enrollments

Percentage change from 2011 to 2012, based on head counts

FTPTTotal

Anne Arundel Community College-4.4%-.6%-1.7%

Baltimore City Community College-41.8%-7.8%-22.7%

Carroll Community College-2.0%4.0%1.5%

Community College of Baltimore County-6.7%-2.8%-4.1%

Harford Community College-3.0%4.3%1.3%

Howard Community College-.2%1.2%.7%

All Maryland Community Colleges -5.9%-.7%-2.5%

Source: Maryland Higher Education Commission