Thursday, February 3, 2022

"20-20": Many US States Have Seen Enrollment Drops of More Than 20 Percent (Glen McGhee and Dahn Shaulis)

In 2013, Futurist Bryan Alexander aptly talked about peak college enrollment in the United States.  And over the last decade or so, higher education enrollment has declined in almost every state. Now at least 18 US states have experienced enrollment drops greater than 20 percent--and five more are close to that threshold.  

People can watch the College Meltdown in real time at 

Enrollment declines are the result of several interrelated economic and demographic shifts.  Reduced populations of college age people, economic distress, growing inequality, and migration are some of the interacting factors. College is expensive and time consuming for working folks.  

While programs like College Promise can help with shoring up community college enrollment, they cannot make up for deep social and economic problems. Online learning has made school more convenient, but the quality and value of several of America's robocolleges (colleges largely free of full-time instructors) is often substandard.  

For many working-class families, college is no longer perceived as the golden ticket to upward social mobility. And a growing educated underclass, based on their own personal experiences with underemployment and student loan debt, are skeptical about the value of higher education for their children--if they choose to have children. Many are not.  

Without significant change, we estimate that the 2026-27 enrollment cliff is likely to put almost every US state above a 25 percent decline over the last 15 years.  With another economic meltdown, the numbers could get worse without major reform--smart social reform--not reform that lines the pockets of the rich and powerful.  

Though consumer demand for college has declined significantly, college costs have not.  Increasing federal funding, though, especially to subprime robocolleges like Purdue University Global, Liberty University, University of Phoenix, and University of Arizona Global Campus may not lead to lower college prices, better quality curriculum, or better jobs at the end of the pipeline.   

*major colleges' data missing from the chart

(Source: National Student Clearinghouse) 


Longhorn Financial LLC said...

I would just differ on college prices because the pandemic exacerbated the divide between haves and have-nots. There certainly are demographic shifts, such as the gradually declining HS student population in New England that also imapct this.

The impact of enrollment, however, varied widely. Community colleges really got crushed with enrollment drops averaging 20%. Regional publics and regional privates also had a decline, albeit smaller. But flagship publics and upper tier privates (Ivy, near Ivy, USNWR Top 50 type of schools) had steady or increasing enrollment AND were inundated with applications.

Thus, the impact on pricing was widely different. As you can imagine, there was little pressure on pricing at those top tier schools. But the pricing at the others, particularly net price, was far different. Some stable, some down.

At some point, there may be a dramatic change in the HE world, but I suspect that any upheaval is unlikely in the upper tier schools. After all, there are still many people who think that Harvard and similar schools are "better" even if that may not be true today. This perception is reflected in the sheer number of applications those top schools receive.

Dahn Shaulis said...

Jack, thanks for the comment. You are absolutely right about the degree in which the College Meltdown is advancing at different schools. Community colleges are especially vulnerable--as are other schools with limited resources. While schools like Harvard and USC may be untouched in terms of money, power, and enrollment, they do face increased scrutiny--especially in their business dealings--and that at the very least can tarnish their images.