College Guide


October 11, 2012 11:00 AM College Enrollments Falling

By Daniel Luzer

So it happened. According to data released earlier this week by the Department of Education, college enrollments declined.

Some 21,554,004 students were enrolled in college in the fall 2011. That’s down from 21,588,124 the year before. That’s apparently the first time the country has seen the numbers drop since 1996.

According to an article by Doug Lederman in Inside Higher Ed:

It’s possible that enrollments are leveling off (and shrinking slightly) now because the economy had begun rebounding enough by fall 2011 that some of those who had flocked to higher education during the recession began finding jobs. It’s also possible that college tuition levels — which have continued to rise in recent years, driven in part by cutbacks in state support and other traditional sources of colleges’ revenue — are pricing more students out of higher education.

The biggest shifts downward, interestingly enough, were for for-profits, which saw their enrollment numbers decline by 3 percent, the biggest decline in any sector.

Daniel Luzer is the news editor at Governing Magazine and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @Daniel_Luzer


  • Sgt. Gym Bunny on October 12, 2012 1:15 PM:

    Not that what I think really matters, but I will vote for option #1. I think a lot students were enrolling in college (especially at the graduate level) to wait out the busted economy.

    Based on my own personal anecdotal yet non-representative experience working at a grad school, a good number of grad students were in grad school because they knew that was easiest way to defer student loan repayments for at least a couple of years and to get financial aid for daily sustenance. We even had students--especially international students on visas--who would intentionally not complete requirements so they can use the extra time as buffer period for finding a job. I think the last four or five years of enrollment numbers were definitely bloated by legions of the unemployed. Maybe the low enrollment numbers bode well for the economy overall. Maybe...