The college enrollment decline state officials have anticipated for years has arrived.
The number of students attending colleges in the state dipped overall this fall, signaling an end to more than a decade of record highs that began in 2001.
But the decline took place primarily at public colleges, while private colleges showed some modest increases.
There were 202,095 students enrolled in all the state's higher education institutions this fall, 897 fewer than 2012.
The fractional overall decline was due mostly to fewer part-time students attending public colleges. The pattern was evident overall both among undergraduates, down 1.8 percent -- and graduate students, down 3.4 percent.
But full-time enrollment held steady, up fractionally among undergraduates, and 2.2 percent among graduate students.
The leveling off of enrollments has been expected for some time and may actually signal good news from an economic standpoint, said Jane A. Ciarleglio, executive director of the state Office of Higher Education.
"Fewer part-time students may indicate that more adults, who usually take a limited number of courses, are finding jobs as Connecticut's economy improves," Ciarleglio said.
For colleges, she conceded, it presents a challenge, forcing them to rely more heavily on their mainstay: full-time undergrads.
Worries about how to pay for college appear to be a nationwide concern. A survey of 300 colleges released by Moody's Investors Service in January 2013 found that enrollment fell in about half of colleges. That survey also found that about one-third of colleges were expecting tuition revenue this year either to decline or fail to keep pace with inflation. Virtually all colleges were seeing tuition revenue rise a few years ago.
Some university officials attributed the decline to the rocky economy, concern about the cost of college, declines in state funding and doubts nationally about the value of a degree.
State higher education officials who have been tracking enrollment trends for years also have long predicted that the ever increasing college enrollment would peak and begin to decline as the baby boomlet waned. The number of high school seniors has been on a downward spiral for several years. That has been somewhat counteracted by an increase in the percentage of high schoolers going on to college.
At Connecticut's four state universities, enrollment was down 2.2 percent to 34,062 this year compared to 2012, reflecting the continued losses in the number of part-time graduate students.
Enrollment at the community colleges fell 2.1 percent to 56,977, reflecting losses in both full- and part-time students.
But while the state's regional colleges saw losses, the University of Connecticut saw its enrollment rise -- just under 1 percent to 30,256 -- shy of its peak of 30,525 reached in 2011.
Stephanie Reitz, a UConn spokesperson, said having more students is exciting.
"It's even more significant when you consider the level of talent they're bringing -- record SAT scores, record enrollment in honors programs, and more valedictorians and salutatorians in each new freshman class every fall," Reitz said.
Post University in Waterbury, which relies heavily on online students, saw an increase, as did Sacred Heart University in Fairfield, where enrollment shot up 8.5 percent to 6,983 students, 549 more than in 2012.
Sacred Heart, like other private colleges, runs aggressive recruiting ads on local and out-of-state radio stations, which may have helped increase enrollments. Some private colleges also increase the number of international students as a way of maintaining enrollment.
Quinnipiac University in Hamden, which added a medical school in 2013, saw a 189-student increase to 8,803 students.
Jim Barquinero, senior vice president of enrollment, student affairs and athletics at Sacred Heart, chalked up the university's enrollment jump to a focus on students.
"(That) combined with the transformation of our campus with some of the finest buildings to be found on any campus have positioned us for this success," Barquinero said. "We continue to grow and change. ... It is gratifying to see prospective students, families and counselors respond to our efforts."