College Enrollment Drops for the First Time in 15 Years


October 11, 2012

For the first time in fifteen years, total enrollment at US colleges and universities dropped, according to preliminary data from the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES). The report focused on over 7,200 postsecondary institutions participating in Title IV federal student aid programs.

Undergraduate enrollment at Title IV institutions declined to 18.62 million in 2011 from 18.65 million in 2010, while graduate enrollment dipped from 2.94 million in 2010 to 2.93 million students in 2011, according to The Chronicle of Higher Education.

While the NCES did not provide reasons for the overall enrollment decline, Insider Higher Ed speculated that state budget cuts and consequent tuition rises could be the culprits behind shrinking enrollment rates. Additionally, some students who pursued postsecondary education to improve job prospects during the recession may have found jobs when the economy began to recover in 2011.

According to NCES data cited by Inside Higher Ed, four-year institutions saw a modest uptick in the number of undergraduate enrollments and two-year institutions saw a slight enrollment downturn. Undergraduate enrollments were up at 4-year public and private institutions, 1.51 percent and 1.67 percent, respectively. Private nonprofit institutions saw the biggest enrollment gains in fall 2011 enrollment numbers, up approximately 2 percent over 2010.

Data from the 2011 NCES report revealed that the overall number of undergraduate students pursuing degrees both full- and part-time at four-year institutions increased in 2011 but fell at four-year, private for-profit institutions in 2011.

Overall, two-year, for-profit institutions experienced the largest decline in total enrollment -- a total of 7 percent. Inside Higher Ed conjectured the enrollment dip at for-profit institutions could be due to demographic and economic changes as well as the recent crackdown on the sector by the federal government.

Demographically speaking, total enrollment numbers fluctuated by race and cultural background. For example, Inside Higher Ed reported that total enrollment by American Indians fell by 4.52 percent, while total enrollment by Native Hawaiians increased by about 5 percent. Latinos experience the biggest gains in enrollment -- an increase of 6.42 percent.

A full report on the data can be expected in December 2012, according to The Chronicle of Higher Education.

Compiled by Michael Brown


"College Enrollment Drops Last Year, Preliminary Data Show,", October 9, 2012, Beckie Supiano

"Enrollment in Postsecondary Institutions, Fall 2011; Financial Statistics, Fiscal Year 2011; and Graduation Rates, Selected Cohorts, 2003-2008,", October 2012

"Higher Ed Shrinks,", October 10, 2012, Doug Lederman

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