College Enrollment Down for Second Year- Part 2

collegeIn a previous post, Zintro experts weighed in on the U.S. Census Bureau announcement that total college enrollment dropped 2.3 percent in 2013– a decline of 463,000 students. We received such strong feedback that today’s post will include additional opinions from  Zintro experts.

D. Terry Rawls, Ed.D. is President and Founder of the consulting firm Strategic Transitions Group, where he assists individuals and institutions worldwide with embracing and successfully navigating change. He has worked in higher education administration for over 25 years. Dr. Rawls says, “The inverse relationship between the economy and college enrollments has been tracked for decades, so as the U.S. economy improves it is not a surprise that enrollments would decline. That the biggest decline would be in community colleges where career-focused associate’s degrees are most common is also no surprise. Those individuals who found themselves out of word in the recession went back to school to re-tool for their next career.

“And while this accounts for much of the decline, it is not the whole story. A quick check of the pipeline– high school enrollments around the country– shows a plateau and even declines in the numbers of high school graduates coming into the system. As those numbers fall colleges and universities will find themselves in an increasingly competitive landscape, and this trend will continue for some time to come. On the positive side for these institutions, there are still 31 million working adults who need to complete their degree that they abandoned in their youth. Of course, there will be plenty of competition for this population too.”

Dr. Carol Barash is Founder and CEO of Story to College, an online education company focused on college access. “Many U.S. families have lost confidence in college’s ability to improve work prospects,” explains Dr. Barash. “This is completely counter to facts, as college graduates, on average, earn $2.7 million more over their working life than non-degree holders. That’s why talented students from other countries flock to U.S. colleges and universities.

“But it is also true that college—particularly for students who are burdened with debt after college—does not guarantee the combination of subject matter expertise, skills + experience, and access to professional networks that once came with a college degree. Increasingly, 21st century professional success comes from one’s ability to create a compelling story that connects diverse learning and work experiences.”

As a higher educational professional with 40 years of experience, Vijendra Agarwal consults in the areas of student/professional mobility globally and career guidance for Ph.D.s in STEM fields, among other services. According to Agarwal, “The decline in student enrollment, particularly, in two-year colleges is likely due to improved employment opportunities. It is known that less motivated students, many of whom are first generation and from under-represented groups with no role-models, have little or no guidance on why they should complete a four-year college for better quality of life. Many of them prefer to seek employment after high school and if that does not happen, they seek admission in a two-year college as a fall back option.

“The enrollment decline is also associated with the increasing debt burden as a result of college degree while the college degree, according to some misinformed individuals, does not add any value to better career choices. Unfortunately, these declining trends are not good news as we are on the road to economic recovery resulting in need for well-educated workforce, particularly in STEM areas, to preserve our global standing in high tech areas and innovation.”

Jeff Marcus consults in college admissions and marketing after working 24 years for private colleges. He was named as an industry leader who has made critical contributions and had significant impact on the private college career sector in Career College Central Magazine (May/June 2012 issue). Marcus has seen significant enrollment trends over the years and has definite opinions on why college enrollment overall is down and why enrollment in two year colleges particularly is down.

“Many times I have seen the trend of slow economy equates to increased college enrollment,” discusses Marcus. “People look to add credentials to give them increased employment options in a slow economy and a college degree is number one on the list. However, when people perceive that there is no end to the down economy or it has lasted so long…people get discouraged or give up, or check out their options including college, more carefully.

“Upon careful fact finding people discover for example, that the Department of Education will tell them that the average two-year degree takes three and one-half years to complete and the average four-year degree takes five and one-half years to complete. In addition, the graduation rate at most two-year community colleges will cause nightmares! I have been in cities where the main local newspaper has published articles about community college graduation rates in the state and they were as low as 12% within four years of starting. When you added students who transferred to four-year colleges, the percentage jumped up to 20%. Three and one-half years instead of two, or five and one-half years instead of four, do not provide a quick or certain fix to unemployment. When you add in the low graduation rate for the shorter term college…people just give up and do not enroll in college!”

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