College Enrollment is Dropping for Unsurprising Reasons

Griffen Smith |  United States

Green grass lawns and Victorian styled buildings have been a staple of higher education for the past 300 years. These institutions give out degrees and diplomas, which are the surest way to increase a person’s salary for life. Furthermore, College is also what most middle-class Americans consider the metamorphic period in which a person truly finds their own individuality, which is why enrollment nationwide has increased from 1900 to 2010. However, though there is some need in having a college education, there are fewer people actually enrolling in higher education. The National Student Clearing House Research Center in May of 2018 found that student population has decreased for the past 7 years, and have hurt The Midwest and Northeast the most. Further estimates explain that the need for highly skilled laborers will go up, even as college participation will continue to drop. Researches are often split on reasons for the decrease, but there are a few critical reasons college is less desirable.

College Is Not Worth The Investment

College, after all, is a tool individuals use to gain access to higher paying, or more desirable jobs. But unless a student wants to get a STEM job or specialize in a lucrative field, such as psychology, college simply is not worth the cost. The College Board, a non-profit site dedicated to preparing students for higher education, conducted a project to visualize how college has become more expensive. They reported that Between 2008-09 and 2018-19, the average published tuition and fee prices rose by $930 (in 2018 dollars) at public two-year colleges, by $2,670 at public four-year institutions, and by $7,390 at private nonprofit four-year colleges and universities. Whether it be more administrators or professors, or better facilities, a higher cost of universities makes getting a degree only necessary when students get a large, and immediate paycheck. If a person goes to college and is not lucky enough to have it paid by scholarships or family, it is likely that the student has to take out a student loan. Loans, another story entirely, are hard to pay off and have put American’s into 1.5 Trillion in debt. So the obvious solution to exorbitant college costs is to not go to a 4-year college. Many Americans instead go to trade schools, or instead, get on the job training.

Online School is More Efficient

In a 2016 survey, the Babson Survey Research Group found while total college numbers are on the decrease, students enrolled in online programs are beginning to grow rapidly. Between 2015 and 2016, the number of students enrolled in online programs grew 6% to 337,000 students, and online programs have only increased during the last 14 years. Online programs are usually cheaper and quicker than attending University in person. Yes, some of these students are considered full-time students because of their course load. However, because of online schools flexibility, many students only take 1-2 classes. Furthermore, online schools specialize in programs, meaning students simply take a small number of courses to get a certificate. So online schools are lowering enrollment because students are taking a quick course to qualify for a job.

Lower Birth Rates

In the long term, there will be a significant drop in students attending college because the population will eventually decrease due to a falling birthrate. Nathan D Grawe, the author of Demographics and Demands For Higher Educationexplains through evidence of population and demographics, that the 2008 financial crisis is responsible for the dropping future of college students. There are regions, such as the Northwest, that are unaffected by a lower birthrate, though they are heavily outweighed by the large populations of the rest of America. Therefore, even if the issues like the cost of attending a 4-year institution, or the accessibility of part-time online school change, there will still not be enough students to fill the halls of generations before them.

The Effect of Falling Enrollment

Fewer students is a serious problem for brick and mortar schools, specifically because of infrastructure. Many schools build beautiful campuses, and more importantly, give students opportunities to use expensive equipment that is used in real occupations. When the wave of fewer students hits, colleges will experience a decrease in revenue (due to less tuition money) and have less access to new technology. In schools that specialize in STEM degrees, less funding could easily destroy the program. Low funding can and will cause the bankruptcy of dozens of regional schools, and make higher education as lucrative as it was in the 1700s.

Do Not Panic

College is not everything, it only puts students in debt in exchange for specialization in knowledge. If a student desires it, or a job requires quite a bit of prerequisite knowledge and experience, one should attend a school in hope of making a comfortable income. However, if college is viewed as a simple requirement to live in modern America, that is simply untrue and these people should not attend university.


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