CC enrollments down by 3.1%

College enrollments declined by 1.8 percent in fall 2012 — 3.1 percent at community colleges, according to the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center. For-profit colleges took the biggest hit with a drop of 7.2 percent.  Enrollment fell by 0.6 percent at four-year public colleges and universities, and rose by half a percentage point at four-year private nonprofit colleges.

College enrollments typically rise and fall with the unemployment rate, notes Inside Higher Ed.

So the fact that the enrollment boom that colleges enjoyed as the economy tanked in 2008 and 2009 has begun to reverse itself is in many ways to be expected.

But that suggests that the philanthropic and government efforts to get significant numbers of adults to go to college (or to return there) to pursue President Obama’s goal of driving up the number of Americans with a postsecondary credential may not be bearing much fruit.

Enrollment declines were bigger for full-time students, compared to part-timers, and for those aged 24 and older (-3.4 percent) compared to traditional-aged students (-0.7 percent).

Including transfers, completion numbers rise

New data that includes transfers shows more students are completing degrees, according to the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center. Fifty-four percent of students complete a degree in six years — including 12 percent who transferred.  In all, 22 percent of students earn a degree from a different college than the one where they started, the report found. Three-quarters of full-time students complete college within six years.

The clearinghouse tracked 94 percent of college students. U.S. Education Department data is less complete, notes Inside Higher Ed.

In contrast to the newly released data, the federal government’s tabulations of degree production and graduation rates generally do not capture transfer or other student “swirl” factors. The Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS) also misses half of all students with institution-level data based only on first-time, full-time students.

Community college completion rates look much better in the new analysis.

“The clearinghouse report both provides a significantly more accurate and much more positive picture of community college completion than the graduation rates from the U.S. Department of Education,” said David Baime, senior vice president of government relations and research for the American Association of Community Colleges.

Twenty-four percent of community college students complete at the same college within six years, but that rises to 36 percent when students who graduate elsewhere are included.  Another 20 percent of students are still enrolled in college.


Three fourths of community college students enrolled in fall 2010 were  enrolled — or graduated – in the next term, according to a National Student Clearinghouse snapshot report.  Students who transfer are counted as persisting, which makes sense but is not the common practice.

Private, nonprofit four-year colleges had the highest persistence rate:  91.4 percent of students persisted from one semester to the next.