EDUCATION

Mid-Atlantic colleges see decline in applicant pool

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WASHINGTON (AP) - Many colleges and universities in the mid-Atlantic region are seeing a shrinking pool of potential students and tuition dollars, forcing new strategies to draw students.

An analysis by The Washington Post of about 80 schools in Maryland, Virginia and the District of Columbia finds 50 had fewer students than they did a year ago. And 20 schools have seen declines of more than 5 percent since 2010. Some were down more than 10 percent.

The contraction has hit schools that serve distinctive niches, including historically black universities, liberal arts schools, women's colleges and others.

At St. John's College in Annapolis, Md., which focuses on the great books of Western civilization, enrollment is down 9 percent since 2010. The small private school's student count has sunk below 500 students. The school is working to raise money to help insulate it from fluctuations in tuition revenue.

"The competition is fierce," said Christopher B. Nelson, president of St. John's. "I've never seen it more fierce, frankly, than the last couple of years. Now we have to keep our eyes on the ball very closely."

The Association of Governing Boards of Universities and Colleges has found half of the schools it surveyed recently fell short of enrollment and tuition goals. Many are having serious conversations about their business models, said Susan Johnson, the association's executive vice president.

Some schools are responding by intensifying their marketing efforts or rethinking tuition and financial aid policies in order to survive.

In Washington, enrollment at the Corcoran College of Art and Design is down 26 percent over the past three years to 554 students. The school says the economic downturn and decreases in financial aid led to the drop.

At liberal arts schools, enrollment is down at least 7 percent at St. Mary's College of Maryland and the University of Mary Washington in Virginia.

Among historically black schools, Howard University saw enrollment sharply decline in 2012, but it partially rebounded this year. But there have also been declines at Morgan State and Coppin State in Baltimore, the University of the District of Columbia, the University of Maryland Eastern Shore, Hampton University and Norfolk State. Many saw enrollments decline after the federal government tightened lending standards for parents in late 2011.

Other schools have seen significant gains, including Liberty University, an evangelical Christian school in Virginia with 77,338 students. Online education helped boost enrollment there by 37 percent since 2010. The University of Maryland Baltimore County also has grown 8 percent, and Radford University in Virginia grew by 10 percent since 2010.

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