Fall College Enrollment Down a Third Year as Job Market Improves

Fall-term enrollment at U.S. colleges fell for a third straight year, led by people over the age of 24 amid a job market rebound and a shrinking pool of high school graduates.

Total enrollment slid 1.3 percent, led by a 6 percent decline at two-year colleges, according to estimates released today by the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center. Signups at four-year for-profit schools dropped 0.4 percent.

Five years after the recession, older students may be having an easier time finding jobs. U.S. companies are hiring at the strongest pace since 1999, Labor Department data show. Today, the department said the number of Americans filing for unemployment benefits fell to a three-week low.

“These results go beyond the story of an improving jobs picture drawing more adults out of college and back into the workforce,” said Doug Shapiro, the center’s executive research director. “We’re also seeing fewer high school graduates in June, reducing the class of new traditional-age college students in September.”

That decline began with the high school class of 2012, according to a report by the Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education in Boulder, Colorado. The trend will worsen after 2025, when college admissions officers face the effect of a drop in births that began during the recession.

Enrollment rose 2.2 percent at four-year public universities and 1.6 percent at private, nonprofit schools, according to today’s report.

The research center said part of the decrease in two-year public enrollment is because some institutions were reclassified by the government as four-year colleges. Without the change, two-year public enrollments would have dropped by 3.4 percent and growth at four-year public schools would have been 0.4 percent, according to its report.

The results are based on post-secondary institutions that submit data to the center and account for 96 percent of degree-granting enrollments at schools eligible for federal student-aid funds, according to the Herndon, Virginia-based nonprofit organization.

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