For the first time in 15 years, college enrollment has begun to shrink. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, a branch of the United States Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences, Fall 2011 saw enrollment at colleges, community colleges and universities drop by .2% overall, while community colleges saw their enrollment drop by 2.23%, and for-profit two-year programs decreased by 7 %.

In Fall 2010, 21,588,124 were enrolled in higher education institutions, while 2011 saw this number decrease to 21,554,004 students enrolled in Fall 2011. While this decrease only amounts to 34,120 less students enrolled nationwide, this is the first time since 1996 that enrollment has decreased instead of increased alongside population growth. The largest drop occurred in for-profit institutions, which saw a decrease in enrollment of 2.92% nationwide. At the same time, private, non-profit institutions actually saw a small 1.84% increase in their enrollment

As colleges typically see an increase in enrollment during periods of recession and economic downturns, due to laid-off workers returning to school to earn a new degree or skillset, many analysts believe that this drop in enrollment could be result of a bettering of the economy by Fall of last year, resulting in job growth and a number of older, unemployed workers finding new jobs. Others have speculated that it could be a response to other factors deterring high school grads and twenty-somethings from attending college instead. Factors like the ever-rising costs of tuition over the past decade and a continued lack of job prospects for inexperienced college graduates may instead be leading some would-be students from avoiding record-high student loan debt and opt out of higher education entirely.

While overall enrollment has decreased, this has mostly occurred within the white demographic, while rates of enrollment for minorities has instead increased. Latinos, the fastest growing demographic in the country, have seen an increase in enrollment at 6.42%.

To review the NCES’s findings in full, visit their website.

Source: Community College Spotlight