College Enrollment Remains Strong
After a period of economic downturn from 2006-2010, and through the period of high unemployment that occurred during the post-recession years, college enrollment among young Americans who were not high school graduates has been significantly lower than in prior decades.
From fall 2017 to fall 2018, the Census Bureau’s Current Population Survey (CPS) data indicates a decrease in the number of American 16-year-olds attending college of 0.3 percentage points from 64.8% to 63.9%, an amount that contributes to the largest percentage point decline in both the absolute number of students attending college and the percentage of student population attending college since 1968.
Four-year public college enrollment rates have also declined from 2015-2016 to fall 3.8 percentage points from 79.8% to 75.9% in 2017-2018.
However, private nonprofit colleges and universities experienced no decrease from 2012-2013 to 2017-2018 in the number of students from working age seeking college degrees.
The median year of enrollment for high school graduates ages 16-24 at private nonprofit colleges and universities is still 2017-2018, which contributed to a total enrollment of about 268,000 students. However, the latest data released by college acceptance rates point to an increase in the expected full-time enrollment rate at private nonprofit colleges and universities of 4.5 percentage points, from 76.7% in fall 2017 to 81.6% in fall 2018.
Higher education attainment rates, which are annual percent increases in the percentage of people with a college degree who are employed, have increased across all age groups, from 50.8% in 2016-2017 to 54.5% in 2017-2018.
The CPS data indicates this trend for American high school graduates aged 25 and older has continued to increase, from 18.7% in 2015-2016 to 22.4% in 2017-2018.
However, the CPS data indicates high school graduates have actually declined slightly in the number of years of college earned since the recession.
There are a variety of factors that can have an impact on how college enrollment is determined. Students entering the workforce early for a training program could be more likely to be students from high school. Postsecondary training and educational programs typically have both unionized and non-unionized facilities. However, there are non-unionized software and hardware manufacturers, which result in a potential increase in college campuses. Other data indicates an increase in low-income people holding college degrees.
Another important factor in decreasing college enrollment is interest. Fewer young people have applied to college, and are waiting until later in life to go. Many students face challenges in navigating an unaffordable college education. Students are also often putting off further education during economic downturns. But again, more people are going to college after the economic recovery.