The Enrollment Slowdown

Career College Central summary:

  • Nearly three million more people will be enrolled in American colleges and universities in 2022 than were enrolled in 2012, according to Education Department projections released Thursday. That would represent a significant slowdown in enrollment growth over the next decade compared to the last one, but the projection is still aggressive given that the traditional college-age population is expected to decline over the same period.
  • The enrollment figures were contained in a broader report, "Projections of Education Statistics to 2022," released by the National Center for Education Statistics; it also contains data about elementary and secondary school enrollments and teaching staffs and high school graduations, among other things.
  • The report qualifies the postsecondary enrollment projections in several ways: it notes that they do not account for such factors as "the cost of a college education, the economic value of an education, and the impact of distance learning due to technological changes," which it notes "may produce changes in enrollment levels." But the report also points out that the agency's track record is pretty good over the past 15 years; 10 years out, its projections have been within 13 percent of the actual total.
  • Those caveats aside, the report projects continued growth in college enrollments, as seen in the table below. Over all, the number of students enrolled at degree-granting institutions in the United States would grow by 13.9 percent from 2012 to 2022.
  • That would seem to be a big drop-off from the nearly 45 percent growth that the report documents from 1997 to 2011 (50 percent at the undergraduate level). But over that period, the number of Americans aged 18 to 24 grew by 21 percent, so the demographic trends drove between a third and a half of the increase, says Nate Johnson of Postsecondary Analytics, a higher ed data expert.

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