US university enrolment drops for eighth year

Declines heaviest among small colleges, men, and states of Florida and Illinois

May 30, 2019
Dripping tap

US university enrolments declined by 1.7 per cent this spring, marking an eighth straight year of decreases during a time of economic growth.

Florida and Illinois took some of the biggest hits, with enrolments in both states falling by about 5 per cent, according to the report from the National Student Clearinghouse Research Centre.

Enrolment at two-year public institutions declined 3.4 per cent and four-year public institutions dropped 0.9 per cent. That made for an overall public sector enrolment decline of 1.9 per cent.

The numbers, based on spring 2019 data, largely reflect slowing US population growth and stronger economic conditions, which often lead older adults to the workplace rather than classrooms.

“Growth in the numbers of graduate and professional students has not been large enough to make up for the declines in undergraduates in recent years,” said Douglas Shapiro, executive director of the National Student Clearinghouse Research Centre.

The report covers data submitted by institutions accounting for about 97 per cent of US college enrolment. The figures include online students, but without any numerical breakdown of their share.

Private four-year non-profit enrolment increased 3.2 per cent, the report says, but with a major division: smaller institutions, with fewer than 3,000 students, continued to suffer, contracting by another 0.8 per cent, while those with 10,000 or more students gained 8 per cent.

And the gain among the larger private four-year non-profit institutions appeared largely due to conversion of Arizona’s Grand Canyon University – with more than 90,000 students, mostly online – from a for-profit institution.

Enrolments among four-year for-profit institutions fell 19.7 per cent, the National Student Clearinghouse Research Centre says.

Overall, the report says, female enrolment dropped just 0.8 per cent while male recruitment decreased by 2.8 per cent. Graduate enrolment increased 2 per cent while undergraduate enrolment fell 2.3 per cent, it says.

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