Behind the Numbers: College Enrollment Decreasing Overall - Higher Education
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Behind the Numbers: College Enrollment Decreasing Overall



A recent report released by the Census Bureau found a sharp decline in college enrollment rates from 2011 to 2012 of nearly half a million students (467,000), a 2 percent dip.  This drop-off comes as a surprise, as college enrollment has been on an upswing with 3.2 million new students enrolling in undergraduate and graduate programs between 2006 and 2011.

Particularly during the 2007 and 2008 financial crisis, the Census reported an increase in overall student enrollment of roughly 13 percent, the largest increase in the last 25 years.  Terry Hartle, senior vice president at the American Council on Education, attributes this increase to the 2008 economic crisis.  He explains that as jobs became scarce, students flocked to schools to finish degrees or get new skills to make them more marketable in a bad economy. Hartle suggests that “enrollment tends to level off or fall when the economy is improving…given how much enrollment surged during the economic downturn, a reduction was inevitable.”

Age Makes a Difference:

If you take a closer look into the data, age makes a difference.  Students who were 25 and older enrolled by 10 percent less than 2011 (or 419,000 students), accounting for three-fourths of the drop in enrollment.  This enrollment-exodus might mean that older students are returning to the workforce.

Combined Undergraduate and Graduate Enrollment By Age (Fall: 2012, 2011, 2010 and 2007)
Source: The Current Population Survey by the US Census, 2013 – Analyzed By Diverse Issues In Higher Education

 Fall 2012 Fall 2011 Fall 2010 Fall 2007
AgeTotal Enrollment (thousands)Percent Change From Previous YearTotal Enrollment (thousands)Percent Change From Previous YearTotal Enrollment (thousands)Percent Change From 2007Total Enrollment (thousands)
..15-19 years old4,284-3.60%4,445-3.20%4,5937.80%4,261
..20-24 years old8,4411.40%8,3286.10%7,84910.80%7,086
..25-34 years old4,333-6.20%4,617-0.20%4,62420.50%3,838
..35 years old and over2,872-4.50%3,007-6.30%3,21015.80%2,772

*Total Enrollment numbers do not add up due to the White alone non-Hispanic column.  Total enrollment calculation was generated by U.S. Census
**Enrollment for Fall 2007 combined part-time and full-time numbers from the Census data set.

Race Makes A Difference in Total Enrollment:

Asians represent the smallest minority population in enrollment by only accounting for 7 percent of all students; however, they saw the biggest gains in college enrollment – up 20 percent from the previous year.

In 2012 Hispanics represented 17 percent of the entire college student population, increasing by nearly 450,000 from the previous year, representing a 15 percent increase. Julie Siebens a Census Bureau statisitican said that the  “increase in the number of Hispanics enrolled in college can be attributed to the combination of an increase in the adult Hispanic population and their climbing likelihood of being enrolled.”

Black students represented about 15 percent of the college student population; however, while their minority counterparts increased enrollment, Blacks dropped by 3 percent from 2011 to 2012.

Combined Undergraduate and Graduate Enrollment By Race (Fall: 2012, 2011, 2010 and 2011)
Source: The Current Population Survey by the US Census, 2013 – Analyzed By Diverse Issues In Higher Education

 Fall 2012 Fall 2011 Fall 2010 Fall 2007
RaceTotal Enrollment (thousands)Percent Change From Previous YearTotal Enrollment (thousands)Percent Change From Previous YearTotal Enrollment (thousands)Percent Change From 2007Total Enrollment (thousands)
..White alone14,628-5.10%15,4121.00%15,25810.30%13,835
..White alone non-Hispanic11,650-8.30%12,7030.70%12,6136.30%11,867
..Black alone3,038-3.40%3,1462.00%3,08323.30%2,501
..Asian alone1,44720.20%1,204-8.90%1,32220.00%1102
..Hispanic of any race3,40015.10%2,9532.60%2,87932.60%2,172
Total Enrolled19,930-2.30%20,3970.60%20,27512.90%17,956

*Total Enrollment numbers do not add up due to the White alone non-Hispanic column.  Total enrollment calculation was generated by U.S. Census
**Enrollment for Fall 2007 combined part-time and full-time numbers from the Census data set.

More importantly, from 2011 to 2012, Black enrollment in their first-year at a college (two-year and four-year combined) dropped by 21 percent; whereas their counterparts all increased enrollment in their first year (Whites at 2 percent, White-non-Hispanic at 1 percent, Asian at 22 percent, and Hispanic at 14 percent).  During their first year at a four-year college Black enrollment decreased from 2011 to 2012 by 24 percent.

 

Percent Change from 2011 to 2012 by Race for Undergraduate and Graduate School   
Source: The Current Population Survey by the US Census, 2013 – Analyzed By Diverse Issues In Higher Education

RaceTotal enrolledUndergraduate college       Graduate School 
All collegesTwo-year collegeFour-year college1st year2nd or higher
1st year2nd year3rd year4th year1st year2nd or higher1st year2nd or higher
..White alone-5%2%-13%-5%1%14%-12%-7%-5%-19%4%
..White alone non-Hispanic-8%1%-18%-8%-2%14%-15%-8%-9%-24%1%
..Black alone-5%-21%4%-8%10%-17%22%-24%-7%-8%25%
..Asian alone22%22%14%-6%51%37%28%16%9%9%62%
..Hispanic of any race17%14%13%12%35%18%4%8%23%24%51%

Difference in Two-Year Colleges:

Despite the overall decline in overall enrollment, two-year colleges saw a 2 percent increase from the previous year.  Hispanics represent nearly one-fourth (23 percent) of the overall two-year college community, and increased their enrollment by 9 percent from the previous year; while Whites decreased by 2 percent.

 

RaceTotal enrolledUndergraduate college       Graduate School 
All collegesTwo-year collegeFour-year college1st year2nd or higher
1st year2nd year3rd year4th year1st year2nd or higher1st year2nd or higher
..White alone-5%2%-13%-5%1%14%-12%-7%-5%-19%4%
..White alone non-Hispanic-8%1%-18%-8%-2%14%-15%-8%-9%-24%1%
..Black alone-5%-21%4%-8%10%-17%22%-24%-7%-8%25%
..Asian alone22%22%14%-6%51%37%28%16%9%9%62%
..Hispanic of any race17%14%13%12%35%18%4%8%23%24%51%

 

Differences in Four-Year College:

Four-year college enrollment decreased by five percent from the previous year. Blacks and Whites (non-Hispanic) had the most significant decreases at 10 percent and 11 percent respectively, while Hispanic enrollment rose by nearly one-fifth (19 percent) from 2011 to 2012.

 

Four-Year College Enrollment By Race (Fall: 2012, 2011, 2010 and 2007)     
Source: The Current Population Survey by the US Census, 2013 – Analyzed By Diverse Issues In Higher Education

 Fall 2012 Fall 2011 Fall 2010 Fall 2007
RaceTotal Enrollment (thousands)Percent Change From Previous YearTotal Enrollment (thousands)Percent Change From Previous YearTotal Enrollment (thousands)Percent Change From 2007Total Enrollment (thousands)
..White alone7,808-6.90%8,3906.10%7,9046.50%7,419
..White alone non-Hispanic6,358-10.80%7,1306.70%6,6844.10%6,418
..Black alone1,425-9.60%1,577-0.20%1,58019.20%1,326
..Asian alone6766.50%635-1.20%64323.70%520
..Hispanic of any race1,65218.60%1,3934.30%1,33620.30%1,111
Total Enrolled10,340-5.30%10,9204.50%10,4509.40%9,550
580

*Total Enrollment numbers do not add up due to the White alone non-Hispanic column.  Total enrollment calculation was generated by U.S. Census
**Enrollment for Fall 2007 combined part-time and full-time numbers from the Census data set.
***Four-year college enrollment calculation included 1st year and 2nd year or higher data

Differences in Graduate Enrollment:

Graduate enrollment only decreased slightly from the previous year, dropping by less then 1 percent.  From 2010 to 2011 Hispanic enrollment in graduate education dropped significantly by 21 percent, and rebounded from 2011 to 2012 by 25 percent.  Asian enrollment in graduate education continues to surge with the highest increase from 2011 to 2012 at 28 percent.

 

Graduate Enrollment By Race (Fall: 2012, 2011, 2010 and 2007)  
Source: The Current Population Survey by the US Census, 2013 – Analyzed By Diverse Issues In Higher Education

 Fall 2012 Fall 2011 Fall 2010 Fall 2007
RaceTotal Enrollment (thousands)Percent Change From Previous YearTotal Enrollment (thousands)Percent Change From Previous YearTotal Enrollment (thousands)Percent Change From 2007Total Enrollment (thousands)
..White alone2,662-3.90%2,771-6.70%2,9699.70%2,707
..White alone non-Hispanic2,340-6.80%2,511-4.70%2,6356.30%2,479
..Black alone537-2.20%54910.50%49712.70%441
..Asian alone45128.50%351-6.90%3771.30%372
..Hispanic of any race36725.70%292-21.30%37148.40%250
Total Enrolled3,760-0.30%3,773-3.80%3,9219.20%3,591

*Total Enrollment numbers do not add up due to the White alone non-Hispanic column.  Total enrollment calculation was generated by U.S. Census
**Enrollment for Fall 2007 combined part-time and full-time numbers from the Census data set.
***Graduate enrollment calculation included 1st year and 2nd year or higher data

 

Other Resources:

The National Student Clearinghouse Research Center echoes similar trends in their recent report: Term Enrollment Estimates for Spring 2013.  In every sector, college enrollment has decreased from the previous spring (2012), with the largest decrease in four-year for-profits (-8.7%).

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