An academic milestone has been reached in Maryland. For the first time, more students are enrolled in two-year community colleges than in four-year schools.

There is no firmly agreed-upon reason, but there is an educated guess. Pressed by a troubled economy, people who can't afford to send their kids away to college apparently are keeping them close to home at such schools as the ones maintained locally in Takoma Park and Largo, where costs are minimal.

Here are the figures, just released by the Maryland Board of Higher Education: 101,487 students at the state's 19 community colleges, a rise of 5.2 percent from the past academic year, and 100,487 at the 13 four-year colleges and universities, about the same as last year. Actually, the four-year schools have a statistically insignificant 69 fewer students than last year.

"When money gets tight," said John Kingsmore, president of Catonsville Community College, parents and students "talk about commuter schools."

And what do the students study? To an extent, upgraded academic programs, Kingsmore said. But Philip R. Day, president of Dundalk Community College in a gritty and depressed steel making-and-shipyard suburb of Baltimore, said many are looking to courses in data processing, industrial electronics and other high-tech fields.