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Rising Costs and Loan Debt Resulting in Lower College Enrollment

Updated: Thursday, September 26 2013, 02:21 PM EDT

Enrollment this fall at Anne Arundel Community College is down about 7% from last year, following a national trend that has some schools scrambling to recruit and retain.

Colleges across the country are seeing an average decline of around 2%, the first substantial drop since the 1990's. Some schools are faring much worse than others.

The freshman class at St. Mary's College of Maryland is only about a third of what administrators had projected. It's a similar story for Loyola University in New Orleans.

Marc Camille is VP of enrollment at Loyola University in Baltimore. He says it's crucial for schools to market themselves, along with the advantages of a degree as students and parents want to know what return they can expect on their investment one year after graduation.

"We're seeing 95% of our graduates are either employed or in graduate school or doing one of the volunteer service programs for a year," Camille said.

Typically, administrators report a spike in enrollment when the economy slumps.  Then as the economy improves, attendance drops - as students enter the workforce. But with rising costs and student loan debt reaching an all-time high of a trillion dollars in the US, many prospective students think they simply can't afford college.

National data shows the average tuition per year for a public university is around $22,000. That number rises to about $43,000 for a private school.

Where Anne Arundel Community College has seen an increase is among graduates who've come back for retraining and students who ultimately plan to attain bachelor's degrees but come to the Community College for the fundamentals.

It's a tricky balance for institutions of higher learning. The goal for many colleges - to cut costs while still offering the kinds of programs that attract pupils.

Rising Costs and Loan Debt Resulting in Lower College Enrollment

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