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Postsecondary Student Enrollments Continue Decline in Fall 2014

Postsecondary Student Enrollments Continue Decline in Fall 2014

by NSC Blog | Dec 12, 2014 | Current Term Enrollment, Research Reports, Research Services |

Overall College Enrollments Decreased 1.3 Percent

For the third straight year, postsecondary enrollments have declined by more than 1 percent, according to the just-released Fall Current Term Enrollment Estimates from the National Student Clearinghouse® Research Center. In spring 2014, overall postsecondary enrollments decreased 0.8 percent from the previous spring, the smallest decrease since spring 2012, when enrollments declined 0.3 percent. The Clearinghouse first started reporting on current term enrollments in fall 2011.

“These results go beyond the story of an improving jobs picture drawing more adults out of college and back into the workforce,” stated Doug Shapiro, Executive Research Director of the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center. “We’re also seeing fewer high school graduates in June reducing the class of new traditional age college students in September. That’s why we now have fewer full-time and fewer part-time students alike.”

Doug Shapiro
Executive Research Director of the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center

Although this year’s rate of decrease is slightly slower than that of the previous two years (-1.5 percent and -1.8 percent, respectively), the nation’s postsecondary institutions are still losing about a quarter of a million students per year. The bulk of the decline is among students over the age of 24, whose numbers fell by 207,000 (-2.8 percent). These students appear to be leaving college or opting not to enter college, as their opportunities in the workforce continue to expand.

Enrollments increased at four-year public institutions (2.2 percent), but decreased sharply at two-year public institutions (-6.0 percent). Some of the shifts in the public sector are due to changes in institutional labeling, rather than student behavior as the U.S. Department of Education’s IPEDS system reclassified some community colleges as four-year institutions. Without these reclassifications, two-year public enrollments would have decreased by 3.4 percent, in line with the declines of the last two years, and the growth in four-year public enrollments would have been 0.4 percent, just slightly above last year’s growth of 0.3 percent. For the public sector overall, enrollments declined by 1.5 percent this fall.

Four-year private non-profit institutions provided the brightest news, with growth of 1.6 percent, which was stronger than last year’s growth rate of 1.3 percent. The growth was concentrated at the largest institutions, however. Campuses of at least 10,000 students in 2013 grew by 2.7 percent in 2014, more than double the growth rate for mid-size institutions (3,000 to 9,999 students), which grew 1.2 percent, and almost four times the rate for smaller institutions (under 3,000 students), which grew by just 0.7 percent.

In the for-profit sector, the steep enrollment declines of the past three years largely halted, dropping by only 0.4 percent in fall 2014. That’s down dramatically from the previous year’s decline of 9.7 percent.

Students over the age of 24 continued to show a greater decline than younger students (-2.8 percent compared to -0.5 percent). This was especially true for community colleges, where adult student enrollments declined 9.2 percent from fall 2013, compared to a 4.0 percent decline for students aged 24 and under. At the for-profits, younger student enrollments actually increased by 2.8 percent. This was a marked turnaround from last fall’s nearly 15 percent drop in younger students at for-profit institutions, but in total numbers their growth was not enough to counter the 1.2 percent decrease among students over age 24.

Published every May and December, Current Term Enrollment Estimates are based on postsecondary institutions actively submitting data to the Clearinghouse. These institutions account for 96 percent of the nation’s Title IV, degree-granting enrollments. The data are highly current, since institutions make several data submissions per term. In addition, since the Clearinghouse receives data at the student level, an unduplicated headcount is reported, avoiding double-counting of students enrolled in more than one institution.

Additional findings from the report include:

  • Enrollments declined in 40 states and increased in 11 states, with the largest increases seen in New Hampshire (19.9 percent) and Arizona (5.2 percent)
  • Multi-state institutions as a group lost more students than any single state did, declining by 80,000, or 7.8 percent
  • Enrollment of full-time students declined at a slightly higher rate than part-time students (-1.4 percent compared to -1.2 percent)
  • Overall the rates of change were similar for men (-1.4 percent) and women (-1.3 percent)
  • There was a sharp divergence in enrollments in the four-year for-profit sector by gender: increase of 6.5 percent for men, but decrease of 4.0 percent for women

Current Term Enrollment Estimates

In fall 2014, overall postsecondary enrollments decreased 1.3 percent from the previous fall. Enrollments decreased among two-year public institutions (-6.0 percent) and four-year for-profit institutions (-0.4 percent). Enrollments increased among four-year public institutions (+2.2 percent) and four-year private non-profit institutions (+1.6 percent).


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