ANNAPOLIS – A record number of students are enrolling in Maryland colleges and universities, according to new figures released Wednesday, but the increase has caused housing crunches, parking congestion and other problems on some campuses.
Enrollment in Maryland’s 56 higher education institutions increased 5.3 percent to 286,477 students this year, making it the highest ever enrollment in Maryland and the largest one-year percentage change since 1974, according to information released by the Maryland Higher Education Commission.
Classes are getting more crowded at community colleges and some students at the University of Maryland are living three-to-a-dorm, but it’s a welcome problem.
“It’s a great dilemma to have,” said Walinda West, commission spokeswoman. “You’d rather have students flocking to your colleges than not.”
The increases are across the board, from community colleges to four-year public institutions to private campuses.
Increased state support to higher education is one of the main reasons for the overall rise, administrators said.
Gov. Parris N. Glendening has more than doubled funding for higher education programs during his term, including approving campus construction projects worth $1.3 billion earlier in the year.
“Maryland has made extraordinary investments in higher education during the past seven years,” Glendening said in a statement. “We have taken aggressive steps to make higher education more accessible to everyone with a desire to learn.”
About half the enrollment increase was attributed to the 5.3 percent rise in full-time undergraduates, which is causing problems at some state universities.
The number of full-time freshman grew 6.7 percent since last year to a record high of 32,054 students.
About 4,350 freshman enrolled this fall at the University of Maryland, when only about 4,000 were expected, said William Destler, vice-president of academic affairs and provost.
About 42 percent of accepted students chose to enroll at the university this year, about 12 percentage points higher than last year, he said.
To accommodate the growth, more dorms are being built on and off campus and more parking garages will be built over existing lots, he said.
The total number of students is at about 33,000, hitting the enrollment cap, he said.
“We are not scheduled to increase enrollment for the next 10 years,” he said.
Fewer freshmen will be admitted in the coming year to ease enrollment rates, he said.
Despite the crowding, the student increase is a “happy circumstance,” Destler said.
The rise in overall quality of the school – from its NCAA Final Four basketball appearance to its increase in college rankings – has attracted more students, he said.
“The reputation of the university has been rising,” he said. “We’ve made very good publicity over the years.”
The last year also saw a sharp turnaround in the enrollment at community colleges, said Elissa Klein, research director at the Maryland Association of Community Colleges.
Community college enrollment declined less than 1 percent over the past two years, but it increased 5.8 percent this year, she said.
Community colleges are facing classroom and parking crunches, as well. But because admissions are open at community colleges, the association has commissioned studies to find ways to alleviate the problems.
“We were expecting (the increase) in the past, but it’s finally showing up,” she said. “We want to make sure we don’t want to turn people away.”