US College Enrollment Down by Half a Million

Between 2012 and 2013, college enrollment in the United States dropped by almost half a million (463,000) — the second year that such a decline has occurred.

According to US Census Bureau data, the two-year decline of 930,000 is the largest college enrollment decrease since before the recent recession.  The bureau began to collect data on the subject in 1996.

“The drop-off in total college enrollment the last two years follows a period of expansion: between 2006 and 2011, college enrollment grew by 3.2 million,” said Kurt Bauman, chief of the Census Bureau’s Education and Social Stratification Branch. “This level of growth exceeded the total enrollment increase of the previous 10 years combined (2.0 million from 1996 to 2006).”

There is an equal drop in enrollment between younger and older students, with students 21 and younger falling by 261,000 and those students older than 25 declining by 247,000.  As of fall 2013, 40% of those age 18 to 24 were enrolled in college.  In 2011 that percentage had reached 42%.

The largest decrease was seen in two-year colleges, where a 10% decline was experienced from 2012 to 2013.  Four-year colleges saw a slight increase in enrollment of 1%.

Despite this, four-year colleges took the bulk of the hit in 2012, when registration dropped by 5.3% to 10.3 million from 10.9 million in 2011.

The drop in enrollment could be caused by a similar decrease in high school graduates.  The trend will become worse by 2025, when college admissions departments will face a drop in births due to the recession.

As those numbers drop, colleges are seeking enrollment opportunities elsewhere.  Fulton-Montgomery Community College in Johnstown, NY is looking to recruit international students, as well as those closer to New York City, as the pool of local students becomes smaller.

Last year the college saw a decline of 8%, depleting their budget by $800,000 to $1 million.

Hispanic enrollment did not see an increase in 2013, despite growing to 1 million between 2007 and 2012.  Black student enrollment did not increase either, after increasing to 500,000 in the same five-year time span.  Asian student enrollment also remained the same, after growing to 340,000 in the same period of time.

“By looking at these statistics over time, researchers can look for trends about how business cycles affect college enrollment,” Bauman said.

Of the 19.5 million college students in the census, 5.3 million attend two-year institutions, 10.5 million are at 4-year colleges, and 3.7 million are enrolled in graduate school.

According to the Census Bureau, 58.2% of students are non-Hispanic white, 16.5% are Hispanic, 14.7% are Black, and 8.1% are Asian.

The data provides information by age, sex, race, family origin, type of college, employment status, attendance status, vocational course enrollment, and private vs. public schools.