Friday, February 4, 2022

Voting with their feet: College enrollment dropped by 475,000 students in the fall of 2021

As the Chronicle of Higher Education reported recently, college enrollment dropped by 475,000 students last fall. Since the COVID pandemic began two years ago, undergraduate enrollment has plunged by 9.2 percent.

A look at college enrollment over the last 10 years shows an even more dramatic decline.  Dahn Shaulis, writing for Higher Education Inquirer, reported that college enrollment is down by 20 percent or more in 18 states during the past decade. Unless conditions change, Shaulis writes, most states will see enrollments drop by 25 percent in the 20226-2027 academic year when compared to enrollment levels in 2010.

COVID is blamed for the recent enrollment exodus.  Doug Shapiro, Executive Director of the National Student Clearing House Research Center, said that students "are continuing to sit out in droves" due to the pandemic, which has forced colleges all over the U.S. to switch from face-to-face instruction to an online teaching format.

But there are larger forces at play. As Shaulis explained:

Enrollment declines are the result of several interrelated economic and demographic shifts. Reduced populations of college age people, economic distress, growing inequality, and migration are some of the interacting factors. 

 And there is another factor at work--difficult to quantify. Young people have begun to figure out that a college education is too damned expensive and often does not lead to a good job.  Liberal arts majors, in particular, often find that their college degree was not a ticket to the good life. Instead, it was a trap that ensnared them in debt and sentenced them to a life of penury. 

Perhaps that is why the number of students majoring in the liberal arts declined by almost a million students last fall, a drop of 7.6 percent from the previous year (as reported by CHE).

We're outta here!


  1. What's really astounding are the number of additional enrollments needed to "claw back" to what Bryan Alexander identified as "peak" levels.
    For example, California is a behemoth system -- with 2.2 million enrollees, but has lost 14% over the years. Where on earth is California going to find and enroll 300,000 to return to where it was? Even a measly 3% will require 66,000 additional enrollees -- but won't find them if enrollment trends are in the other direction. No wonder the state is investing so much money in higher ed -- the worst permanently failing institution in recent memory, or at least the longest lived one.

    1. I hear you, brother. Higher ed can't stay afloat by finding more students to generate revenue. The trend is the other way--toward fewer people going to college.

  2. Here's another data point -- a recent GAO report investigated anticipated restart problems with the student loan repayment program -- and pointed out that 9.3 million borrowers were in default. Remember when private equity experts hired during the Trump administration pegged the FSA portfolio "black hole" at $500 billion? That's a lot of angry, trapped people that have an iron collar around their throats. How do you think they will vote when they get the chance?
    Biden Administration needs to forgive loans for the 62 year olds losing Social Security money, garnishing payments, pushing them below the federal poverty guideline. There was even a GAO investigation on that, too.

  3. Thanks for writing, Glen. I agree especially with what you said about garnishing the Social Security checks of student-loan defaulters. You would think that Congress could pass a bipartisan bill to stop that practice. Senator Warren introduced a bill to stop that practice but it never got out of committee. Take care,Richard