Showing posts with label enrollment cliff. Show all posts
Showing posts with label enrollment cliff. 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, 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