After growing by 3.2 million between 2006 and 2011, college enrollment in the United States has declined for the past two years, according to data from the U.S. Census Bureau.
Specific minority groups, including Hispanics, blacks and Asians, also experienced an increase in enrollment between 2007 and 2012, but minority enrollment did not increase in the 2012-13 year. Two-year institutions have been most affected by this decline, but four-year colleges and graduate schools have also been affected.
Staff writer Elizabeth Matulis spoke with Kurt Bauman, an analyst at the U.S. Census Bureau, about the higher education enrollment decline and the effects of the economic recession on enrollment.
? The Daily Tar Heel: What do you think about the drop in college enrollment?
Kurt Bauman: Our role is to produce basic numbers people can use, interpret and work with. We have not seen a large drop like this.
DTH: Why did so many people enroll in college from 2006 to 2011?
KB: There was research done by people at the Federal Reserve Board in Chicago. They researched how business cycles affect college enrollment, and they saw a strong correlation between the two.
There are two different effects of the recession. When the economy gets bad, people cannot find jobs. If they cannot find a job, they go back to school because of the lack of good employment activities. Other people find work. Some people do not go back to school if things are so bad.
We saw people doing both things. At least in theory, the economic downturn could have increased or decreased college enrollment. With the researchers at Federal Reserve Board of Chicago, the effects of recession were mostly seen to increase enrollment.
DTH: Then is the economic recovery a reason for the enrollment drop?
KB: If the recession is what led to an increase, at the end of the recession, when the economy is improving, it would have the opposite effect — putting people in jobs and not putting people in college. Based on research I have read, it seems to be a consistent story with what I am reading.
DTH: Have public universities had a larger decline in enrollment than private schools?
KB: I didn’t see anything strong in that pattern. If I recall correctly, they are about the same; there is not anything going on in one section more than the other. Some other sources have slightly different results.
DTH: Where is the decline in enrollment happening?
KB: It seems to have impacted all levels of school. Four-year colleges, two-year schools and even graduate schools to some degree. The largest changes were in two-year schools; there was a much larger decrease relative to enrollment.
The research the Federal Reserve Board of Chicago did show that two-year schools were more affected by economic trends.
DTH: What are other interesting trends?
KB: An interesting sidelight to this is that a huge growth has taken place in Hispanic enrollment in colleges in the past five to 10 years. (The years) 2007 to 2012 saw an increase by one million of the number of Hispanic students enrolled in college.
It seems to have leveled off this year. The fast growth in Hispanic enrollment is an important phenomenon that people have not noticed as much.
DTH: Have other minority groups seen similar increases?
KB: There were also large increases in the number of students in other racial groups enrolled in college. African-Americans’ student enrollment increased by half a million, and Asians’ enrollment increased by 300,000 (over 2007 to 2012).