Showing posts with label college enrollment. Show all posts
Showing posts with label college enrollment. Show all posts

Saturday, August 19, 2023

Department of Education Fails (Again) to Modify Enrollment Projections (Dahn Shaulis and Glen McGhee)

For more than a decade, the US Department of Education (ED) has forecasted higher education enrollment numbers, projecting 10 years in advance. In 2013, the National Center for Education Statistics projected total enrollment to reach nearly 24 million students (23,834,000) a decade later.  But by 2021, the real numbers would already be five million fewer (18,659,851).

We can only guess what happened to enrollment numbers between 2021 and today, but it's doubtful they have increased.  The National Student Clearinghouse has reported lower numbers between 2021 and 2022, but they use different methods and do not engage in forecasting. 

In 2013, few could have predicted such a significant enrollment decline. The lag in getting up-to-date numbers from ED made it even more difficult to envision. We relied on more up-to-date numbers, though less complete, from the National Student Clearinghouse to understand what was happening. 

In 2014, with limited data, futurist Bryan Alexander asked Inside Higher Education readers Has Higher Education Peaked?  In fact, undergraduate higher education had peaked and began its steady decline in 2011.  Little was said from the higher education establishment for years. The slow but consistent downward trend, though, became more obvious with each year as the numbers came in.  

By 2017, Nathan Grawe predicted a 2026 enrollment cliff, a by-product of reduced birth rates in the 2008-2009 Great Recession.  This revelation made more people conscious of already declining enrollment numbers that started falling six years earlier. But the Department of Education did little to change their predictive formula. For several years, growing enrollment in online courses and graduate degrees kept total enrollment declines from appearing more dramatic.

In January 2018 we contacted the US Department of Education about these failures. According to William Hussar, the agency had already begun work on developing an alternative methodology for producing college projections, but that this would take years to implement. In the meantime, the numbers continued to drop, and polls showed fewer people having confidence in higher education.  Student loan debt may have been of little interest to most Americans, but it did sour tens of millions of debtors and their families. We suggested that behavioral economists might be needed to provide an alternative formula.

Today, the US Department of Education, despite some revisions in their most recent modeling, continues to forecast higher education enrollment gains--up to 2031-- despite mounting evidence it will decrease significantly (i.e. the "enrollment cliff"). We cannot expect online education, grad school participation, or even a faltering economy to prop up higher ed enrollment. Faith in higher education is waning-and for good reason. Despite propaganda from the higher ed industry, it's become a riskier bet for a growing number of the working class and middle class.

Related links:

US Department of Education Fails to Recognize College Meltdown

US Department of Education Projects Increasing Higher Ed Enrollment From 2024-2030. Really? (Dahn Shaulis and Glen McGhee)

Enrollment cliff? What enrollment cliff? 

Projections of Education Statistics to 2028 (US Department of Education)

Wednesday, April 19, 2023

Enrollment cliff? What enrollment cliff?

US higher education enrollment has been declining slowly and consistently since 2011.  The downturn has been significant but small enough for the media and many people outside of higher education to miss this phenomenon. 

Enrollment is down about 5 million students a year from its peak.  
Source: US Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics

In 2017, the Higher Education Inquirer began reporting on enrollment declines and potential problems related to the US Department of Education's optimistic projections.  We reported on declining numbers of high school graduates and reduced higher education funding in a number of states, including New York, Illinois, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Virginia.  And we were also particularly concerned about the plummet in community college enrollment

In 2022 we reported that at least 18 US states had experienced enrollment drops greater than 20 percent--and five more were close to that threshold.  Losses at regional public universities were also troubling. 

In 2026 and 2027 we expect a more precipitous drop: a result of declining fertility rates during the 2008-2009 recession.   

So where does US higher education enrollment go after 2026?  And will more people notice? 

Overall, it doesn't look good if we take a look at state-by-state projections for high school graduates from the Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education (WICHE).  Florida, Nevada, Idaho, DC, Maryland, Texas, South Dakota, South Carolina, and Utah may see few if any future declines. But 20 states are expected to have additional enrollment loses of 10 percent or more.  Here's a list of the states that may be hardest hit in coming years.  

Source: WICHE

These enrollment declines are in addition to the enrollment declines of 2011-2023 that all of those states experienced.  

Enrollment declines after 2038 may also appear, a ripple effect of the Covid pandemic.  Other future headwinds include climate change, internal and external conflicts, and economic disruption.  Skepticism about the value of higher education has been growing for years.  Crushing student loan debt has also fueled this skepticism. 

With a few notable exceptions, enrollment losses have been restricted to community colleges, for-profit colleges, small private universities and regional public universities.  At the moment, it appears that more elite schools will not be affected, and may actually profit from the decline of other schools.  And as competition for good jobs increases, graduating from elite universities may carry more prestige value--at almost any price.  

*The Higher Education Inquirer would like to thank Nathan Grawe for his assistance in this article. 

Related links:

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

US Department of Education Projects Increasing Higher Ed Enrollment From 2024-2030. Really? (Dahn Shaulis and Glen McGhee)

Projections Data from the 10th Edition of Knocking at the College Door (WICHE)

State Universities and the College Meltdown

Alaska is Leading the College Meltdown. Who's Next? 

College Meltdown: NY, IL, MI, PA, VA hardest hit 

Community Colleges at the Heart of College Meltdown

US Department of Education Fails to Recognize College Meltdown 


Sunday, September 11, 2022

State Universities and the College Meltdown

State Universities are using Google Ads to boost enrollment numbers.

(Updated November 28, 2022) 

While for-profit colleges, community colleges, and small private schools received the most attention in the first iteration of the College Meltdown, regional public universities (and a few flagship schools) have also experienced financial challenges, reorganizations, and mergers, enrollment losses, layoffs and resignations, off-campus learning site closings and campus dorm closings, lower graduation rates, and the necessity to lower admissions standards. They are not facing these downturns, though, without a fight. 

State universities, for example, are attempting to maintain or boost their enrollment through marketing and advertising--sometimes with the assistance of helpful, yet sometimes questionable online program managers (OPMs) like 2U and Academic Partnerships and lead generators such as EducationDynamics.  


Academic Partnerships claims to serve 50 university clients.  HEI has identified 25 of them. 

Google ads also follow consumers across the Web, with links to enrollment pages.  And enrollment pages include cookies to learn about those who click onto the enrollment pages. Schools share the information that consumers provide with Google Analytics and Chartbeat.  

                                       A pop-up Google Ad for Penn State World Campus

Advanced marketing will not improve institutional quality directly but it may raise awareness of these state schools to targeted audiences.  Whether this becomes predatory may be an issue worth examining.


In order to stay competitive, state universities have to have a strong online presence and spend an inordinate amount of money on marketing and advertising.  Ohio University and other schools now offer programs that are 100 percent online.  


State universities have joined for-profit colleges in the television advertising space. 

Despite marketing and enrollment appeals like this, we believe the financial situation could worsen at non-flagship state universities when austerity is reemployed--something likely to happen during the next economic downturn

While state flagship universities have multiple revenue streams, they are often unaffordable for working families.  Elite state universities, also known as the Public Ivies, have increasingly shut out state residents--in favor of people from out of state and outside the US--who are willing to pay more in tuition. 

Aaron Klein at the Brookings Institution calls this significant (and dysfunctional) out-of-state enrollment pattern as The Great Student Swap.  

State Universities with more than 4000 foreign students include UC San Diego, University of Illinois, UC Irvine, University of Washington, Arizona State University, Purdue University, Ohio State University, Michigan State University, and UC Berkeley. 

People fortunate enough to attend large state universities as undergrads may feel alienated by large and impersonal classrooms led by graduate assistants and other adjuncts.  There are also significant and often under-addressed social problems related to larger universities, including hunger, substance abuse, sexually transmitted diseases, hazing and sexual assault.  

Online only versions of flagship schools may not be of the same quality as their brick and mortar counterparts. Purdue University Global and University of Arizona Global Campus, for example, are open enrollment schools for working adults which produce questionable student outcomes.  These "robocollege" schools hire few full-time instructors and often spend a great deal of their resources on marketing and advertising.  

EducationDynamics is a lead generator for "robocolleges" such as Purdue University Global and University of Arizona, Global Campus.  


                    Purdue University Global has used questionable marketing and advertising.

The Higher Education Inquirer has already noticed the following schools in the Summer and Fall 2022 that received media scrutiny for lower enrollment, financial problems, or labor issues:


More schools will be added as information comes in. 
Related link: College Meltdown 2.0 

Tuesday, August 30, 2022

US Department of Education Projects Increasing Higher Ed Enrollment From 2024-2030. Really? (Dahn Shaulis and Glen McGhee)

The US Department of Education (ED) continues to paint rosy projections about higher education enrollment despite harsh economic and demographic realities--and increasing skepticism about the value of college degrees.  

Image from Digest of Education Statistics (2022) 

Since 2011, higher education enrollment has declined every year--a more than decade long trend. The Covid pandemic of 2020 to 2022 made matters worse with domestic and foreign enrollment-- (temporarily) ameliorated by government bailouts and untested online education.  Foreign enrollment continues to languish. And the enrollment cliff of 2026, a ripple effect of the 2008 Great Recession, is now just around the corner. 

ED is projecting enrollment losses in 2022 and 2023, but why is it projecting enrollment gains from 2024 to 2030?  Apparently, one of the problems is with old and faulty Census projections made during the Trump era that were not corrected.

Based on these Census numbers and other factors, the Department of Education's National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) projects increases in high school graduation numbers.  The Western Interstate Commission for Higher (WICHE), in contrast, projects declines in high school graduates starting about 2025. (see graph below). 

For ED, relying on overly optimistic projections for high school graduates creates a statistical train wreck that's made even worse by what's not in their formula.  

Popular opinion about college has been declining for years, and there is no indication that attitudes will improve.  A growing number of younger folks have joined the "educated underclass," becoming disaffected by underemployment and oppressive student loan debt.  While progressive policies could change attitudes, deep skepticism about the value of education is an important statistical wildcard.

This is not the first time that the Higher Education Inquirer has questioned overly optimistic US Department of Education projections. While NCES has updated projections from time to time, it seems to have relied too much on the past and been too slow to change.  

Related link:  Millennials are the first generation to prove a college degree may not be worth it, and Gen Z may be next (Chloe Berger, Forbes/Yahoo Finance)

Related link: America’s Colleges & Universities Awarded $12.5 Billion In Coronavirus Bailout – Who Can Get It And How Much (Adam Andrzejewski, Forbes)

Related link: Online Postsecondary Education and Labor Productivity (Caroline Hoxby)

Related link: U.S. Universities Face Headwinds In Recruiting International Students (Michael T. Nietzel, Forbes)

Related link: Demographics and the Demand for Higher Education (Nathan Grawe)

Related link Why U.S. Population Growth Is Collapsing (Derek Thompson, The Atlantic)

Related link: Economic Well-Being of U.S. Households in 2021 (Federal Reserve)

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

Related link: Community Colleges at the Heart of the College Meltdown

Related link: Projections of Education Statistics to 2028 (NCES)

Related link: US Department of Education Fails to Recognize College Meltdown (2017)

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)