College enrollment drops 1.4 million students, threatening long-term stability of higher education

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NOTNew concerns are being raised about the long-term prospects for higher education as enrollment numbers continue to fall and coronavirus relief funds dry up.

College enrollment was down 4.1% in spring 2022 compared to spring 2021, according to the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center’s semiannual report. The center puts the total drop in undergraduate students since the start of the pandemic in spring 2020 at 9.4%, a drop of 1.4 million students in two years.

“It’s a trend that the pandemic has accelerated,” said Robert Eitel, president of the Liberty Defense Institute and former US Department of Education official. Washington Examiner. “The declining enrollment trend was a problem before the pandemic, [and] the pandemic has highlighted the problem as higher education looks to the horizon and sees the declining birth rate. The math is such that the students, at least the high school graduates, will not be there.”

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The drop in enrollment has been widespread, with private and public colleges all being affected to varying degrees and community colleges seeing the biggest drop. The only outlier in the overall national trend is conservative religious colleges, many of which have experienced record growth.

In spring 2021, enrollment in public two-year colleges fell by 9.5% and again by 7.8% in spring 2022. Meanwhile, in public four-year colleges, the decline went from 0 .6% in spring 2021 to 3.4% in 2022.

Beyond the pandemic, colleges are struggling to recruit students who may not see the value of an expensive degree, but rather the burden of years of student debt.

The average cost of undergraduate education in a public school is $9,349 per school year and $27,023 for out-of-state tuition, according to the Education Data Initiative. A year at a private college costs about $53,217.

Families pay for education long after graduation. The average federal student loan debt per borrower is $36,510.

“Families and students are watching…the cost of college and the ever-accelerating rates of tuition increases. They hear about the issue of student debt. They’ve watched from friends and elder siblings, maybe even parents, who have put themselves in a position where they’ve taken on too much debt to get a college education, and they don’t want to be in that situation,” Eitel said. really higher education at a dead end, and it’s a vicious feedback loop that they get into where they have less and less enrollment, their costs are fixed, and they’re in a situation where they have to deal with the cost to do business with fewer students.

Declining enrollment has broad implications for the financial solvency of higher education. Federal and state funding for most institutions is allocated based on a college’s enrollment statistics. Federal student aid funds are distributed through the FAFSA application and disbursed on behalf of individual students to the institution of their choice. Although federal COVID-19 relief funds may have delayed financial catastrophe, the threat still looms.

“I think it is a certainty that there will be more institutions that will close [down] the road,” Eitel added. “I don’t think higher education is really prepared for these changes, even though everyone knows they are coming. It’s a bit of a train wreck in slow motion.”

More challenges loom on the horizon, with the declining birth rate hitting an all-time high in 2020 with 1.6 births per woman in the United States, well below the replacement birth rate of 2.1.

“These are profound demographic changes,” Eitel said.

But while the bigger picture may look grim, Daniel Hurley, CEO of the Michigan Association of State Universities, told the Washington Examiner that aid for his state’s public colleges could come in the form of state funding through a proposal dubbed the “Michigan Achievement Scholarship” that would give students up to $6,000 to attend colleges in ‘State.

Hurley said, “A lot of the state policy debate has been about taxes, and my new mantra has been that talent trumps tax policy every day of the week. If Michigan or any other state is going to be successful, it won’t be yours. It’s going to be about talent, and it’s all about the affordability of education.”

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Hurley remains optimistic about the long-term prospects for higher education in his state, noting that a 2017 survey by his organization found that 84% of Michigan parents expect their children to attend college. and earn a four-year degree, and the salary outlook for a college graduate always exceeds that of a non-college graduate.

At least in the short term, Hurley said he thinks the wait for a four-year degree remains, but added that concerns and apprehensions also exist, particularly amid growing job opportunities. lucrative jobs driven by a labor shortage that has seen wages rise in many low countries. – specialized jobs often held by teenagers.

“I think we’ve seen high school students who might be in [the] bubble are dropping out of college because they see that short-term benefit of making a few extra bucks an hour,” Hurley said. “Now, in two, three years, they might regret it.”

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