US student enrolment ‘continues to decline’

Drop driven by fall in number of mature, part-time and non-degree seeking students in past year

May 23, 2018
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The number of students enrolling in US universities has dropped by 1.3 per cent to 17.8 million in the past year, according to estimates.

The data from the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center, a non-profit organisation, show that the estimated decline was driven by a 1.8 per cent fall in the number of undergraduate enrolments between spring 2017 and spring 2018 to 15.3 million.

This drop occurred entirely in “sub-baccalaureate programmes”, such as associate degrees and certificate programmes, while bachelor and graduate programmes both saw increases, it said.

There were also estimated declines in the number of enrolled students aged over 24 (down 4 per cent), the number of students enrolling in four-year for-profit colleges (down 6.8 per cent) and the number of part-time enrolments (down 3 per cent).

Overall, student enrolment declined in 34 states and increased in 16 states.

The report is based on enrolment data submitted by about 3,600 US post-secondary institutions, which enrol 97 per cent of all university students in the US.

A report from the organisation in December found that college enrolments had declined for six consecutive years, but at the slowest pace since the drop began.

The new data also show that the number of students who started college in the spring term has significantly dropped.

There were 755,000 students who began university between January and May 2018, a decline of 57,000 or 7.1 per cent compared with spring 2017, the report says.

When combined with those who started in the autumn, this brings the total number of new enrolments to 3.4 million for the 2017-18 academic year, down from 3.5 million in 2016-17.

Doug Shapiro, executive research director of the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center, said that the figures show that institutions are doing a better job of holding on to their traditional age students, but continue to lose ground on enrolling older adults.

“The part-time associates and certificate programmes that were so attractive to adult students, particularly the unemployed, a decade ago, are showing all the effects of the recovering economy drawing those students back into the workforce today,” he said.

Last month, the US government published data predicting that student enrolment would increase by 13 per cent between 2015 and 2026, a significant slowdown of the 25 per cent growth between 2001 and 2015.

ellie.bothwell@timeshighereducation.com

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