Colleges Continue To See Enrollment Decline

Research shows that enrollment in colleges in the U.S. has continued to decline since 2019, with many wondering if the impact could be permanent. 

How low are we talking?

Figures show the number of students going to college is down by nearly a million since the start of the pandemic, and by nearly 3 million over the last decade. Just last fall, colleges and universities in the U.S. saw a drop of almost 500,000 students. 

Why the decline?

It’s easy to pinpoint the pandemic as the main culprit, but it seems more complicated than that. In the last decade, college enrollment numbers had already been falling, and the impact of the pandemic has accelerated that trend. 

Reasons for falling enrollment over the years include declining birthrates over the years, which means fewer college-aged students enroll in school. That’s had an impact that we’ll continue to see for many years. 

Then there’s the shift as many questions the value of a college education. The financial hardship felt post-pandemic has many young adults rethinking their priorities. Wages have continued to increase in industries that don’t necessarily require a college degree, so many have decided to seek employment for the short-term gain, rather than invest in the long-term return of a college education. 

So, what are colleges doing about it?

Colleges are definitely feeling the financial impact as they struggle to fill their seats, meaning students could see this reflected in the price tag of tuition and operational fees. However, in an effort to bring these costs down, colleges will also be fighting harder than ever to recruit more students. 

This will likely lead to shifts in colleges and universities to make higher education more accessible and open doors for prospective students that wouldn’t have otherwise had the opportunity. This includes waiving application fees, programs for returning students, and removing standardized test requirements. 

Which colleges will this affect?

The bill is particularly aimed at U.S. colleges and universities that participate in federal student aid programs. Institutions that already admit significant numbers of underrepresented students, like HBCUs, tribal colleges, and minority-serving institutions could be exempt.

Our forecast

The falling trend of college enrollment isn’t likely to end anytime soon and this will definitely have a financial impact on the higher education industry. However, this may bode well for admissions chances as students will face less competition in the application process and find more opportunities across colleges and universities looking to fill their seats.

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