ANNAPOLIS – The highest percentage of talented high school seniors in 17 years is choosing state colleges and universities, according to a new study by the Maryland Higher Education Commission.
And the campus that has traditionally recruited the largest percentage of these students — the University of Maryland at College Park — has recently started sharing, the survey showed.
The commission is interested in these students’ intentions because campus’ reputations are based on their ability to attract those with strong scholastic credentials, officials said.
The report, a survey of spring 1996 high school graduates, focused on the college they planned to attend, how they arrived at that decision, their intended academic major and whether they obtained financial aid.
Since the surveys began in 1979, a significant majority of high achieving Maryland students has selected a college or university outside the state.
However, since 1994, nearly 30 percent of these students have chosen a Maryland campus — the highest percentage in the history of the survey.
College Park, meanwhile, has seen its share of the high- ability seniors drop from 17 percent to 13.2 percent during the past five years, the survey said.
At the same time, the share choosing the University of Maryland at Baltimore County, St. Mary’s College and The Johns Hopkins University has been rising, said Gayle Fink, the commission’s associate director of policy analysis and research.
Questionnaires were mailed in July 1996 to 600 Maryland high school seniors who were named National Merit or National Achievement semifinalists or were Maryland Distinguished Scholar recipients. These students represent the top 2 percent of all high school graduates academically.
National Merit and National Achievement semifinalist status is awarded to juniors who have one of the top Preliminary Scholastic Aptitude Test scores.
In their senior year, students can become finalists with a combination of high Scholastic Aptitude Test scores, a good academic record and recommendations. National Achievement is distinctly for African-American students, said Jeff Welsh, the commission’s public information officer.
The Maryland Distinguished Scholar award is a $3,000-a-year scholarship to a four-year Maryland institution to students who prevail in academics or the arts.
The commission surveys students during the summer following graduation to maximize the number who have firm college plans. This year, 61 percent responded.
Welsh said one of the state’s biggest problems is its proximity to so many good schools — including Princeton University in New Jersey, the University of Virginia and Duke University in North Carolina.
Students who chose out-of-state schools usually are interested in engineering, biological science and art majors, while those staying in Maryland study business, communication, language and mathematics, the study concluded.
The survey also found that students who stay in state have a greater share of their first year’s college costs covered by financial aid than students who go out of state. The study said most students who chose to stay in Maryland cited financial reasons.
Students who planned to attend an out-of-state institution were asked to suggest changes or improvements that would make Maryland’s public colleges and universities more attractive to them. Frequent recommendations include improving the academic reputation of the programs, decreasing the size of College Park’s student body and enhancing the quality of the student body and selectivity at all Maryland public institutions. -30-