Wednesday, December 12, 2018

College Enrollment Declines in Tight Labor Market

With help wanted signs multiplying across the nation, college enrollment continues to decline. Only 18.4 million students were enrolled in college in 2017, according to the Census Bureau, nearly 2 million fewer than the 2011 high of 20.4 million.

College enrollment by type of school in 2017 (and 2011)
Total enrollment: 18.4 million (20.4 million)
Two-year colleges: 4.3 million (5.7 million)
Four-year colleges: 10.3 million (10.9 million)
Graduate schools: 3.8 million (3.8 million)

Enrollment trends since 2011 differ by type of school. The biggest decline occurred at two-year schools as the tightening labor market lured students away from campus. Between 2011 and 2017, the number of students at two-year schools fell by a substantial 25 percent—a loss of 1.4 million. The enrollment decline at two-year schools accounts for most of the overall decline in college students since 2011.

Graduate school is a different story. The 3.81 million enrolled in graduate school in 2017 was slightly greater than the 3.77 million enrolled in 2011.

Four-year schools are yet another story. Yes, enrollment in four-years schools in 2017 was below the 2011 level. But in contrast to two-year or graduate schools, enrollment in four-year schools peaked much more recently—in 2016, at 11.15 million. Between 2016 and 2017, enrollment in four-year schools fell by more than 800,000. Is this decline just a blip, or is the labor market looking so good that four-year schools are about to experience the type of decline that has dogged two-year schools over the past few years?

Source: Census Bureau, School Enrollment in the United States: October 2017—Detailed Tables

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