College Enrollments Drop for 3rd Straight Year

Report: “Postsecondary Student Enrollments Continue Decline”

Organization: National Student Clearinghouse Research Center

Summary: College enrollments dropped by 1.3 percent this fall after slipping 1.5 percent last fall and 1.8 percent in the fall of 2012.

  • For the public sector over all, the decline was 1.5 percent, with two-year colleges down 3.4 percent and four-year colleges up 0.4 percent. (Those categories have been shifting as more community colleges offer four-year degrees.)
  • The for-profit sector fared much better than in previous years, with enrollments down by just 0.4 percent in the fall of 2014. That compares with the previous year’s decline of 9.7 percent. Growth in the number of younger students accounted for much of the turnaround.
  • Also in the good-news column, enrollment inched up by 1.6 percent at four-year private nonprofit colleges.
  • Looking at the national picture, enrollments declined in 39 states and the District of Columbia. They were up in 11 states, with the largest jumps in New Hampshire (home of Southern New Hampshire University’s booming online program), at 19.9 percent, and Arizona, at 5.2 percent.
  • The biggest drops were among students older than 24. Their numbers were down by 2.8 percent this fall.

Bottom Line: Colleges are still struggling to maintain enrollments as the number of 18- to 24-year-olds continues to decline in many parts of the country and a slowly recovering economy provides jobs for more people. That’s causing financial headaches for colleges that have become increasingly dependent on tuition as state appropriations have shrunk. Still, despite five straight years of drops in the nation’s unemployment rate, enrollments remain above prerecession levels, says Jason DeWitt, the clearinghouse’s research manager.

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