As job market improves, decreasing enrollment rates make some schools desperate
According to the Census Bureau, 2012 saw college enrollment drop by almost half a million among students 25 and older. The dip comes as a shock because these rates had been steadily increasing since 2000.
The National Student Clearinghouse Research Center notes the numbers for these older students are dropping at twice the rate of those of traditional students. It seems that many opted for higher education during the recession, and now that the job market is improving, they are heading back to into the workforce.
Increasing tuition and loan interest rates, paired with new job opportunities, are causing college to look less attractive to prospective students. This is doubly true for non-traditional students, who often have children and families to consider.
When people are depending on you, a college education is more of a gamble. It seems silly to spend money and hope it will result in a better job as opposed to getting a job and making money now.
Colleges that are less wealthy and more dependent upon tuition revenue are likely to suffer due to the new lack of students. These schools will probably have to lower admission requirements to meet their enrollment numbers.
It also means that colleges will become more competitive with each other. With everybody vying for applicants, it will take a lot more for a single university to get noticed.
Desperate times call for desperate measures. Randolph College in Virginia went so far as to cold-call potential students, so to speak. Letters were sent to worthy students who hadn’t even applied offering not only acceptance, but financial aid as well. While this is an extreme, many colleges are becoming more generous with grants and other perks in order to obtain sufficient enrollment.
The decreasing numbers boil down to non-traditional students being forced to make an extremely difficult choice. The sure thing is the newly available jobs. The lofty goal is getting a good education, which, though expensive, is a worthy investment in a future career. Suffering universities add a troubling third dimension to the puzzle.
As more people choose jobs, the likelihood increases that schools will be forced to shut down or merge, which in turn punishes current students.
The entire university system hangs in a delicate balance that largely depends upon the country’s economy. Inevitably, a plateau will follow the wild swings in enrollment rates. However, the question of how long it will take remains a direly important one to students of those struggling universities.
Opinion columnist Katie Wian is an English junior and may be reached at [email protected]