Fewer high school grads means falling college enrollment

by Grace

The declining number of high school graduates coupled with a (possibly) recovering economy and soaring tuition point to falling college enrollment.

Trend of sharp growth in high school graduates is ending.*

Beginning around 1990 and continuing through about 2011, colleges and universities could count on an annually growing number of students graduating from the nation’s high schools. But that period of abundance appears to be about to end….


College enrollment may continue to decline.

College Enrollment Falls as Economy Recovers

The long enrollment boom that swelled American colleges — and helped drive up their prices — is over, with grim implications for many schools.

College enrollment fell 2 percent in 2012-13, the first significant decline since the 1990s, but nearly all of that drop hit for-profit and community colleges; now, signs point to 2013-14 being the year when traditional four-year, nonprofit colleges begin a contraction that will last for several years. The college-age population is dropping after more than a decade of sharp growth, and many adults who opted out of a forbidding job market and went back to school during the recession have been drawn back to work by the economic recovery.

The most selective colleges will likely continue to thrive, but the rest may not fare so well.

Hardest hit are likely to be colleges that do not rank among the wealthiest or most prestigious, and are heavily dependent on tuition revenue, raising questions about their financial health — even their survival….

The most striking signs of change came from Loyola University New Orleans and St. Mary’s College of Maryland. After the usual May 1 deadline for applicants to choose a college, Loyola and St. Mary’s each found that their admission offers had been accepted by about one-third fewer students than expected. Both institutions were forced to make millions of dollars in budget cuts and a late push for more enrollment.

What does this mean for your child?

Parents may want to look at the chart above, and get a sense of how their child might fare in the changing environment of the next decade.

  • Many colleges may become less selective, especially for full-pay applicants.
  • Regional differences in growth trends of high school graduates could help pinpoint areas of the country where your child may find it easier to get into college.  For example, according to Figure 2.22, Michigan colleges may go to greater lengths to woo students while Texas schools may become more selective in the next decade.
  • The trend of growing tuition discounts for top students could continue.
  • Fewer students may be headed for residential colleges as online education continues to gain steam.

If higher education pricing has hit a peak, it could be good news for young parents.  On the other hand, it could lead to even lower standards of learning, at least in the short-term.

* Source of the chart:  Knocking at the College Door: Projections of High School Graduates 8th Edition, December 2012 (Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education)s

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