Justin Fox Column: How University Enrollment Drops Can Be Good News | Chroniclers


By Justin Fox

During and after the 2007-2009 recession, college enrollments grew rapidly. Partly that was just the demographics of the millennial generation: There were 3.5 million more young people aged 18 to 24 in the United States in 2010 than ten years ago (and about 750,000 more than today). But the percentage of young Americans attending college and graduate school also hit an all-time high in 2011.

The brief but sharp recession of 2020 and its aftermath is already taking a very different shape for university enrollments. Newly released Census Bureau data shows a modest overall drop in registrations of 0.7 percentage points from the previous year in October 2020 – albeit with an interesting divergence between men (down 1.5 percentage points ) and women (down only 0.2).

Meanwhile, the colleges themselves say the decline in enrollment continued into 2021, with two-year colleges recording the biggest drop by far. Higher education enrollments in spring 2021 were down 603,000 students, or 3.5%, from the previous year, according to the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center. Two-year colleges accounted for the bulk of this with a drop of 476,000, or 9.5%, most of which was in 18 to 24 year olds. Preliminary fall numbers show a further slowdown in declines for two-year schools and possibly a larger drop than at the start of this year for four-year schools.

The declines were also not distributed evenly across four-year colleges, with suburban schools reporting enrollment declines while numbers rose in more elite schools. The Indiana University System, which has a flagship campus in Bloomington, an urban campus shared with Purdue University in Indianapolis and regional campuses in Gary, Kokomo, New Albany, Richmond and South Bend, has some of the best data and the most recent (already updated in the fall) on these divergent fortunes.

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