When Kathy Green graduated from St. Mary's High School in Annapolis two years ago, she knew she wanted to go to college. But the 19-year-old didn't know where.
So the Annapolis teen decided to do what many of her fellow residents have done: Stay home and earn a degree, practically from her own backyard, at Anne Arundel Community College.
"A lot of colleges tend to be expensive, and I was unsure where I wanted to go or what I wanted to do," Ms. Green said. "I decided I'd go to a community college, stay there for a year, and then transfer out.
"But after the first year I liked it so much I decided to stay for a second year. It's just a really great school," she added.
More county high school graduates are opting to attend Anne Arundel Community College than any of the state's other 14 public colleges and universities.
This spring, 11,732 students signed up for classes -- a record for spring registration, and a 9 percent increase over last year.
In 1992, 1,135 county residents registered at AACC as full-time freshmen. The University of Maryland at College Park accounted for the second largest number of county residents who chose to attend college in Maryland, with 168 students.
"We are very pleased with the interest students have shown in the college," said Augustine Pounds, AACC's vice president of student services.
"We have been very active in the community by going out into the schools and talking to students about the programs and services we provide," she said.
The college has made a number of strides over the past several years to step up its marketing efforts. Not only do officials work in conjunction with the county's high schools in setting up information sessions, but they also have placed registration booths at the mecca of teen-age and young adult life -- the mall.
Students see "the opportunities, support we provide," Dr. Pounds added. "We obviously have an environment that supports success."
A June study completed by the Maryland Higher Education Commission shows that of the 1,735 county students who entered a state public college in the fall of 1992, 68 percent chose to attend AACC. Maryland has 49 public and independent colleges and universities.
The study also said that the majority of Maryland residents seeking post-secondary education choose to do so in the state. The National Center for Educational Statistics reported that 65 percent of first-time freshman, and 75 percent of undergraduate students, stay within state boundaries while attending college.
"[AACC is] very close to my home, and it's a nationally ranked school," Ms. Green said. "The credits are easy to transfer and the people are just nice.
"My first semester here I was walking around kind of blind. But I met with an adviser and she found out about my interest in sports and helped me arrange my classes so I could do both. I love it here."
Dr. Pounds said there is no one reason county students choose to attend AACC over the state's other offerings.
"When you look at [the county's] record and the number of students going to college, obviously you have to look at the economy and the convenience of our school," she said.
Courses at the community college cost $54 per credit, while classes at the state's four-year schools can be twice as much. This fall, tuition at Towson State University will be $1,043 for 12 or more credits per semester. At the University of Maryland at College Park, tuition will be $1,282 for nine or more credits per semester.
But even with courses at just $54 per credit, Dr. Pounds said students have cited an increase in cost as one reason they often cannot return semester after semester. In spring 1992, the college made up for a $30 million budget cut by raising the cost of a credit hour from $44 to $54.
The following fall, AACC saw a slight decrease in enrollments after eight years of significant growth.
"But our retention rate is still very good," she said. "I think [the school's success in attracting students] is reflective of the open door the college has with the community. I think it shows that we are serving our population, and we are serving them well."
Community colleges were once seen as a place of last resort, the school students attended when they couldn't get into "a real school." But that stigma seems to be dying. Students attending Anne Arundel Community College have grade point averages and test scores comparable to students attending other public colleges throughout the state.
The average Scholastic Aptitude Test score for a student attending the community college is 839. The national average score is 899.