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State university system enrollment to dip

For the first time since the 1990s, enrollment in the University System of Maryland is expected to decline this fall, a drop attributed to a decrease in the number of Maryland’s high school graduates and other trends at the system’s 11 universities.

The most precipitous decline is expected to be at the University of Maryland University College, which is expected to see 6.5 percent fewer students.

At a USM Board of Regents committee meeting Thursday, each university presented very different long-term enrollment projections.

From 2013 to 2014, the total system headcount is expected to decrease by 1 percent, or about 1,560 students.

But the decline is likely to be short-lived. By 2023, officials expect an 11.8 percent increase (or about 18,000 students) in overall USM enrollment.

About 153,300 students were enrolled system-wide in fall 2013; officials expect to enroll about 171,360 students in 2023.

Several institutions, such as Frostburg State and Salisbury universities, expect enrollment to hold steady or increase only slightly both in the short-term and down the road. The University of Maryland’s College Park and Baltimore campuses, on the other hand, expect slight reductions in enrollment.

The state’s historically black universities expect robust enrollment growth. The University of Maryland, Eastern Shore has projected the largest 10-year growth of all USM institutions — an expected increase of 43.8 percent — while Coppin State University projected an increase of 34.7 percent by 2023; Bowie State University expects to see growth of 22.7 percent.

Those schools are also predicting short-term increases: UMES projected a 3.7 percent increase in 2014 and Coppin anticipated a 2.5 percent boost.

If those expectations hold true, it would be a reversal of recent trends there. From 2012 to 2013, Coppin State enrollment fell by 6.3 percent, the largest decline that year, and UMES enrollment fell by 5.3 percent.

The enrollment drop at UMUC, which offers online undergraduate and graduate programs, is due in large part to increased competition in the online education marketplace, according to spokesman Robert Ludwig.

That competition, in combination with other factors, resulted in fewer students enrolling at UMUC last year. In 2013, 6.1 percent fewer students enrolled than in 2012.

“Online education is not the novelty that it was 10 years ago or even five years ago,” Ludwig said. “More people are choosing online classes, so it’s a mature market, but of course that means there’s increased competition, whether from institutions that are fully online or schools that are getting into the online game, both in the for-profit sector and from other public schools.”

Enrollment is expected to decline at UMUC until 2017, when numbers begin to tick back up, but enrollment is not projected to reach current levels until 2019. After that, officials expect steady growth through 2023, looking for a 10-year increase of 12.7 percent.

UMUC is dealing with another factor, Ludwig said. The Prince George’s County school, which caters largely to older, working student, has felt the sting of federal cutbacks, because many people in the area are government employees.

“If the federal government is cutting back, and people are either getting laid off or just not finding a job, it’s tough to swing that financial commitment to going back to school,” Ludwig said.

The demographics of the population also affect UMUC’s enrollment, Ludwig said. The typical student there is between 25 and 34 years old, but that age group has shrunk as a portion of the state’s population, he said.