University of Maryland, Baltimore County student Alex Bauserman withdrew from classes in the fall of 2020 and did not return the following semester.
He had signed up for classes hoping to take in-person classes, but a poor social situation – he had no roommate, there were no clubs to join and all his classes were moved online due to the coronavirus pandemic – led to him taking a year off from college.
“So there were all kinds of things going on. … This is too much,” Bauserman said of his first half. “So I just watch the events that are happening in the world. As you have the ongoing pandemic. You have civil unrest at the time, the next election, all these different things. And it’s a bit overwhelming.
Bauserman isn’t alone in taking a step back from higher education — fewer and fewer students are enrolling in college courses across the country. But in Maryland, enrollment changes are not as uniform.
Enrollment trends vary at individual universities, public and private, across the state from 2019 to 2021. Several schools in Maryland’s university system, such as UMBC and Coppin State University, saw declining enrollment. However, some institutions, like Morgan State University, have defied national patterns and seen an increase in student numbers. And at the state’s flagship school, the University of Maryland, College Park, undergraduate and freshman enrollment continued to rise.
National trends have shown declining enrollment since the Great Recession, but the decline has steepened with the pandemic. As of fall 2020, according to the National Center for Education Statistics, approximately 19 million students were attending college, with approximately 300,000 of these students in Maryland. The National Center for Student Information Clearinghouse Research found that enrollment losses across the country during the pandemic amounted to a 5.1% drop – meaning an expected 938,000 students did not enroll in college classes from fall 2019 through the fall of 2019. Fall 2021. In the past year alone, undergraduate enrollment has declined by 3.1%, which translates to almost half a million students.
Ross Santy, who works with the National Center for Education Statistics, said those numbers don’t directly correlate with a drop in the number of students interested in pursuing higher education. Rather, they describe a variety of situations, including some who interrupted their college careers with the intention of returning. Morgan State University Kara Turner, Vice President for Enrollment Management and Student Success, said he heard of some students waiting to fully experience the in-person experience while others were taking a mental health break.
“People hear, ‘Enrollments are down,’ and the idea is that everyone is dropping out of college. I don’t think that’s necessarily what’s happening,” Santy said. “That’s what we’re going to have to see – how much of a disruption it was versus how much of a reset it was and someone who was thinking about college and decided that another way was better.”
In public and private schools in Maryland, enrollment has varied.
Coppin State University saw a 22% decline in undergraduate enrollment from fall 2019 to fall 2021. The University of Maryland saw a 13% increase in its freshman class during the same period. McDaniel College recorded a 5% increase in enrollment in 2020 along with a record freshman class. However, in the fall of 2021, freshman enrollment has declined for the institution.
Johns Hopkins University, Towson University and the University of Baltimore have seen back-to-back declines in undergraduate enrollment since 2019, with the University of Baltimore seeing a steep drop of 23.5%.
UMBC vice provost for enrollment Yvette Mozie-Ross said despite the university’s overall declines, the school had its largest class of first-time students last fall. Additionally, the university introduced a new program in fall 2020 called Finish Line to help recruit alumni and put them on track to graduate.
On the other hand, Morgan State University saw enrollment drop in 2020 but rebound in 2021. After a decrease in freshman enrollment for 2020 from 1,365 in 2019 to 1,202, class size freshman almost doubled the following year with a record 2,288 students.
“We expect we’ll see an even bigger class and more enrollment for this fall,” Morgan State’s Turner said.
Turner said the jump came in part from partnerships with companies such as IBM, Lincoln Financial Group and the NFL; larger financial aid programs; and – notably – the increased buzz around HBCUs.
Following the Black Lives Matter protests in the summer of 2020, Turner said, students wanted to attend colleges where they felt physically and mentally safe. After Howard University graduate Kamala Harris was elected vice president of the United States, students got to see more HBCU graduates on the national stage, Turner said. (Yet such an effect has not been seen in other Coppin State HBCUs.)
Turner also credited a record $40 million donation from MacKenzie Scott, ex-wife of Amazon billionaire Jeff Bezos, in 2020 for helping garner media attention.
The university is hiring more faculty members and renting more off-campus space to meet housing needs. Morgan State is trying to acquire land in East Baltimore to build a satellite campus as more students enroll in college.
“Morgan, in particular, is really on the rise,” Turner said.
Loyola University of Maryland plans to welcome its largest and most diverse freshman class this fall. When the pandemic hit, Loyola moved to full virtual learning, which Eric Nichols, vice president for enrollment management, correlates with a drop in enrollment. In the fall of 2020 and 2021, the university was behind expected numbers by about 1%.
Loyola launched the Charm City Promise program last year, which is committed to working with admitted students eligible for the Pell Scholarship in the City of Baltimore and meeting 100% of their financial needs, including room and board. Through this program, Nichols said, Baltimore City student enrollment increased by 87%. He said the program will continue indefinitely, but fewer students may be admitted to the program depending on available funds.
The evening sun
Get your evening news delivered to your email inbox. Get all the best news and sports from baltimoresun.com.
“We hope that perhaps the donors of the university will contribute to help finance the initiative so that we can continue to offer it in the future,” said Nichols. “Potentially, philanthropy will help ensure that happens.”
Community colleges have seen larger enrollment declines than four-year universities during the pandemic. In fall 2020, student ranks fell 10% year-over-year, according to the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center. Transfer enrollments, which include students who moved from community colleges to four-year universities, also fell, according to research associate Hee Sun Kim.
Sandra Kurtinitis, president of the Community College of Baltimore County, said the decline can be attributed in part to the fact that minorities, who make up a large portion of community college enrollment, have been disparately impacted by the pandemic.
CCBC actually reached 103% of its credit enrollment in fall 2020, which means the institution was able to retain its students and onboard more people into the student body, Kurtinitis said. The college had launched its tuition-free program over the summer, which allowed 84% of the 45,000 students to attend on full or partial scholarships. Kurtinitis said CCBC was also aware that some students were struggling with internet access or technology, so the college used mask mandates, plexiglass and smaller class sizes to keep the campus open to the public. instead of turning to online learning.
CCBC’s fall 2021 data shows enrollment is down 5%, but Kurtinitis said she already has a “battle plan” in the works to get the numbers back up. The plan includes working with high schools, increasing online classroom capacity and being cautious about public health. Recently, the CCBC returned to mask mandates in classrooms and in groups of 10 or more.
“We are determined,” Kurtinitis said. “We’re going to come out of this pandemic roaring and reclaim our little piece of the world here.”