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College Enrollment Continues Its Slide

Enrollment Falls 1.9 Percent from Last Spring, Mostly among Older Students

HERNDON, VA, MAY 14, 2015 – Spring postsecondary enrollments continue to decline, according to the just-released Spring Current Term Enrollment Estimates from the National Student Clearinghouse® Research Center™. College enrollments in spring 2015 totaled just under 18.6 million, down 1.9 percent compared to spring 2014. As in each of the last three years, the bulk of this spring’s decline is among students over the age of 24, whose numbers fell by 264,000 (-3.6 percent).

Additional report findings include:

  • Most of this spring’s decline took place at two-year public institutions (-3.9 percent) and four-year for-profit institutions (-4.9 percent), compared to last spring.
  • Students over the age of 24 represent 38 percent of the total spring 2015 enrollments, but account for 74 percent of the decline in total enrollments over the past year.
  • Two-year public institutions lost nearly a quarter of a million enrollments this year, and are down 415,000 from spring 2013. Students over the age of 24 account for three-quarters of this decline.
  • Enrollment in four-year for-profit institutions declined 7.4 percent this term, from fall 2014 to spring 2015. For the year, four-year for-profit enrollments were down 4.9 percent compared to spring 2014. Both of these numbers represent the largest declines of all the institutional sectors.
  • Enrollments at four-year public institutions were essentially unchanged (+0.1 percent) at 7.5 million.
  • Enrollments held relatively steady compared to last spring at private nonprofit institutions (-0.2 percent), but there was a sharper decline for the term compared to fall 2014 (-3.6 percent, the largest fall-to spring decline in several years for this sector). There was also a divergence by institution size. Smaller institutions (under 3,000 students) saw enrollments decline by 2.4 percent compared to last spring, while the largest institutions (10,000 or more students) saw enrollments increase by 2.1 percent.
  • Full-time enrollment declined at a slightly higher rate than part-time enrollment (-2.0 percent compared to -1.7 percent).
  • Enrollment of men declined at a slightly higher rate than women (-2.1 percent compared to -1.7 percent).
  • Enrollments declined in 40 states and increased in 10 states.

“Despite recent reports about students’ concerns over rising costs and whether college is still worth it, these figures suggest, to the contrary, that the improving national employment picture remains the dominant influence on enrollments,” stated Doug Shapiro, Executive Research Director of the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center. “Our enrollment data continue to show that adults over age 24 are leaving college and returning to the workforce, in line with the steady declines in the unemployment rate. Traditional-age students, by contrast, are staying enrolled, even at the more expensive four-year institutions.”

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.

About the National Student Clearinghouse® Research Center™

The National Student Clearinghouse Research Center is the research arm of the National Student Clearinghouse. The Research Center collaborates with higher education institutions, states, school districts, high schools, and educational organizations as part of a national effort to better inform education leaders and policymakers. Through accurate longitudinal data outcomes reporting, the Research Center enables better educational policy decisions leading to improved student outcomes.

To learn more visit http://research.studentclearinghouse.org.

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