Total college enrollment fell again this year, driven primarily by the departure of older students finding employment in an improving economy, according to a report released on Thursday by the National Student Clearinghouse.
Total postsecondary enrollment this spring dropped 1.9 percent from last year, according to the report. The sector suffering the biggest decline was four-year for-profit institutions, which saw a 4.9-percent enrollment drop. Public two-year institutions saw the second-highest percentage of students leave, at 3.9 percent.
“Despite recent reports about students’ concerns over rising costs and whether college is still worth it, these figures suggest, to the contrary, that the improving national employment picture remains the dominant influence on enrollments,” said Doug Shapiro, executive research director of the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center, in a news release. “Our enrollment data continue to show that adults over age 24 are leaving college and returning to the work force, in line with the steady declines in the unemployment rate. Traditional-age students, by contrast, are staying enrolled, even at the more expensive four-year institutions.”
Students over the age of 24 left for-profit and community colleges at the highest rates, with the sectors seeing declines of 6 percent and 7 percent, respectively.
Enrollment at private four-year colleges dropped for the first time in several years. The decline was slight — 0.2 percent — but the report notes that institutions enrolling fewer than 3,000 students saw a bigger drop, of 2.4 percent. Institutions larger than that saw an increase of 2.1 percent. Enrollment at private colleges over all had ticked up by more than 1 percent in each of the past three years. Enrollment also dropped by 3.6 percent from the fall term to the spring term at private colleges, the largest such decline in several years.
Enrollment at public four-year institutions stayed steady this year, increasing by 0.1 percent.
The total enrollment drop recorded this year is larger than the one observed between the spring of 2013 and the spring of 2014, which was 0.8 percent. The year before that, enrollment dropped 2.3 percent.
Enrollment declined in 40 states and increased in 10. New Hampshire showed the biggest jump, of 19 percent, a result of ballooning online enrollment at Southern New Hampshire University. New Mexico showed the biggest enrollment drop, at 8.3 percent.
The annual report covers more than 96 percent of enrollment at degree-granting institutions that receive federal financial aid.