College enrollment declined by .2 percent in the fall of 2011 — the first drop in 15 years — according to preliminary U.S. Education Department data.
Enrollment dipped 2.23 percent at community colleges and 7 percent at for-profit two-year programs.
During recessions, laid-off workers often enroll in college to learn new skills or wait for the economy to improve, notes Inside Higher Ed.
So it’s possible that enrollments are leveling off (and shrinking slightly) now because the economy had begun rebounding enough by fall 2011 that some of those who had flocked to higher education during the recession began finding jobs. It’s also possible that college tuition levels — which have continued to rise in recent years, driven in part by cutbacks in state support and other traditional sources of colleges’ revenue — are pricing more students out of higher education.
According to the new data, fewer whites are in college, but more minorities. Latino enrollment is up 6.42 percent.
For-profit colleges have lost students in the face of scrutiny about graduation rates, graduates’ job prospects and loan defaults.
The community college decline could be linked to long wait lists at California community colleges.
The drop in community college enrollment could be “the canary in the coal mine . . . a sign that higher education is losing its ability to serve as the primary vehicle for economic mobility,” warns Joni Finney, a Penn education professor, on The Quick and the Ed. “It is hard to imagine that increased employment opportunities are the cause” of the shift from full-time to part-time studies, she writes.