- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 3, 2018

Given the choice between a six-figure college degree and a job, people are increasingly taking the job.

A recent report by the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center shows that college enrollment has declined for the sixth consecutive year as the economy has rebounded from the recession.

Doug Shapiro, executive research director of the center, said high-priced degrees have become less attractive as hiring has picked up.

“Institutions are doing a better job of holding onto their traditional age students, but continue to lose ground on enrolling older adults,” Mr. Shapiro said in a statement. “The part-time associates and certificate programs that were so attractive to adult students, particularly the unemployed, a decade ago, are showing all the effects of the recovering economy drawing those students back into the workforce today.”

The number of post-secondary students fell to 17.8 million this spring, the report found, down 1.3 percent from last year’s spring term.

Enrollment among college-aged students was up slightly, but not enough to offset the exodus of adult learners. The number of students aged 18 to 24 increased 0.4 percent this spring, while enrollment among students older than 24 declined 4 percent.

At public universities that offer four-year degrees, the number of students aged 18 to 24 increased 1.1 percent, while adult learners at those institutions were down 2.9 percent. Nonprofit, private universities that offer four-year degrees also saw a .6 percent increase in college-aged students, but a 1.8 percent decline in students older than 24.

For-profit institutions were hit hardest by the booming economy. Both college-aged and adult students were down nearly 7 percent at for-profit schools that offer four-year degrees.

The report also found that the gender gap continued to widen in higher education, with female college students outnumbering male students 10.2 million to 7.5 million.

Male enrollment declined more steeply than female enrollment across all institution types. Overall, the number of male college students dropped nearly 2 percent this spring, while female enrollment dropped less than 1 percent.

At four-year public universities, male enrollment declined .6 percent, and female enrollment increased .2 percent.

The number of men attending nonprofit, private schools that offer four-year degrees dropped nearly 1 percent, while the downtick in female enrollment at those institutions barely registered at .1 percent.

Peter Wood, president of the National Association of Scholars, said he welcomes the decline in enrollment. He said higher education is oversaturated with students who are not going to college for the right reasons.

“We have already long since gone past the point where students who are capable of a traditional college curriculum have been completely absorbed, and we are dipping lower and lower in the application pool, trying to convince people who don’t have the aptitude for college to come anyway,” Mr. Wood said. “That succeeds in getting them to burden themselves with a lot of debt and probably not obtain any degree that’s actually worth anything.”

College enrollment was down in 34 states this spring, the Clearinghouse report found. The state hit hardest was New York, which saw enrollment at its universities decline by more than 45,000 students.

Schools in the Midwest also had trouble filling their classes. College enrollment in Michigan was down by more than 22,000 students, in Minnesota by more than 11,000, and in Ohio and Pennsylvania by nearly 10,000 each.

The economic forces driving people away from college also appear to be driving college students away from the humanities.

The majors hit hardest this spring included philosophy and religious studies, which were down 4.9 percent among students at four-year institutions; English language and literature/letters, down 4.7 percent; foreign languages, literatures, and linguistics, down 4.5 percent; and history, down 2.5 percent.

The disciplines experiencing the biggest growth included science technologies/technicians, which was up 6.5 percent among students at four-year institutions; architecture and related services, up 4.9 percent; and computer and information sciences and support services, up 3.7 percent.

The enrollment crunch has forced some schools to rethink how they attract students.

University of Wisconsin Colleges, at which full-time student enrollment has declined 32 percent since 2010, are aggressively increasing outreach to more diverse, urban populations, where the number of high school graduates is expected to increase, reported Wisconsin Public Radio.

And Western Kentucky University, which has seen enrollment decline 4 percent since 2012, is putting more emphasis on recruiting international students who pay full tuition.

“We’re in the process of hiring a new associate provost for Global Learning and International Affairs, and that person will be tasked with trying to find a way to turn around the decline in international enrollment,” Bob Skipper, the university’s media relations director, told an ABC affiliate.

Jason Dewitt, a research manager at Clearinghouse, said colleges are “certainly concerned” by declining enrollment and are thinking about ways to buck the trend.

“And so the question now is, who is the next group to recruit onto college campuses?” Mr. Dewitt told NPR. “And it’s likely that Hispanics and first-generation college students are going to make up a greater share of new college enrollment.”

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