College Enrollment Down for Second Year

collegeStudent enrollment at colleges and universities in the U.S. declined in 2013 for the second year in a row. The U.S. Census Bureau announced last week that total enrollment dropped 2.3 percent to 19.5 million, a decline of 463,000. The biggest drop was at two-year institutions, which fell 9.7 percent. Economic trends have been blamed for enrollment trends in education over the past decade. Enrollment numbers increased when the economy was hit hard in 2008, and there appears to be a fallback. In this two-part series, Zintro experts will discuss the enrollment figures.

Ian Hale is an autism/author consultant and education expert. “Some may argue that a mere two-year drop in enrollments can be written off as an anomaly, a ‘blip,’ but a closer analysis of the figures reveal this not to be the case,” explains Hale. “I have looked at each year’s figures starting from 2010, and all show a drop on the previous year’s. The last two years are significant only because the percentages appear to have accelerated to the point where they have been stimulating a broad debate, both within and outside the Higher Education community. The question at hand therefore: “Why have University enrollments been dropping, now increasingly rapidly for 5 years straight?

“I believe this has been caused by not one, but a combination of factors, one of which is, as mentioned above, the continuing stagnation of the US economy and its failure to make much impact on the level of unemployment, which has dropped by only a little over 1% over this period. These factors have two results. Firstly, fewer potential students from family’s being unable to afford high University fees; and, secondly, a well-founded fear from students of taking out college loans when even a good degree is no a guarantor of a good job at its conclusion. Many able young people are choosing to either study abroad where the standards are high, but the fees relatively low-the UK is a good example and has seen a rise in American students, or alternatively, young people are opting to stay in America and work their way up a career through in-house corporate training programs. However, this is by no means the whole story.”

Dr. Ron Thomas Jr. has been in higher education as a Dean and Professor since 1979. He has worked at technical colleges, community colleges, and major research universities, both public and private. “While it’s true that we have normally associated lean economic times with higher college enrollment, that has generally been because students thought that education would be a key to getting a job quickly thereafter. We are in a different economic situation right now as corporations are sitting on cash reserves and not hiring. Therefore, students do not see the openings or which to get training and education. Higher education is not seen as an end in itself but its utility comes from career opportunities. If those opportunities do not seem to be extant, why enroll in college?

“Further, I think we need to prepare for the next economic bubble which will be student loan defaults. Just like easy credit led to the housing bubble, easy college loan credit will lead to many people having loans with no hope of repayment. Another Federal bailout may keep the loan system solvent, especially now that it has largely been federalized anyway. Since large credit lines have been available to students, colleges had no incentive to cut tuition. I expect a retraction of the education market like the housing market experienced.”

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