Undergraduate enrollments for this spring compared to last spring dropped 1.8 percent (275,000 students), with public two-year colleges seeing a 2-percent drop (107,000 students), according to a new report from the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center.
Four-year, for-profit institutions saw the largest decrease at 6.8 percent, while private, nonprofit four-years and public four-years saw spring-to-spring dips of 0.4 percent and 0.2 percent, respectively.
The study shows that public two-year colleges continue to see decreases in enrollment but at lower rates. Dips in spring-to-spring enrollment were 2.5 percent last year and 3.3 percent in 2016. As reported previously, fall-to-fall enrollments have also seen a slowdown in the rate of decrease. This past fall, the rate declined 1.7 percent, compared to 2.6 percent the previously fall and 2.9 percent in fall 2015.
A look at new students
The report also examines the number of students who started college in the spring term. Overall, there were 755,000 students who began their college career between January and May 2018, a decline of 57,000, or 7.1 percent, compared to spring 2017. The decline in new student enrollments included more than 22,000 fewer over the age of 24 and nearly 35,000 fewer in the 18-to-24 age group. When combined with those who started in the fall, this brings the total number of first-timers to 3.4 million for the academic year, down from 3.5 million in 2016-17.
Among public two-year colleges, first-time spring enrollments for students over age 24 dropped 11.2 percent, compared to last year’s 7.7-percent decrease. Traditional college-age students (ages 18 to 24) also saw their new student rate decline 4.7 percent, compared to the 0.6-percent decrease the previous year.
“Institutions are doing a better job of holding onto their traditional age students, but continue to lose ground on enrolling older adults,” Doug Shapiro, executive director of the NSC Research Center, said in a statement. “The part-time associates and certificate programs that were so attractive to adult students, particularly the unemployed, a decade ago, are showing all the effects of the recovering economy drawing those students back into the workforce today.”
The data show that public two-year colleges continue to see increases in enrollments among students under age 18 — which is mostly driven by dual-enrollment programs with high schools — though the increases are at a slower rate. In spring 2018, the colleges saw a 2.1-percent increase in this age group, compared to a 10.6-percent increase in spring 2017. Public two-year colleges were the only higher education sector to see an increase in this age group this spring. Public four-years saw a 2.4 percent drop, while private, nonprofit four-years saw a 5.9 percent decrease.
At public two-year colleges, enrollments in science technologies/technicians jumped 30 percent to 12,854, followed by biological and biomedical sciences, which saw a 16.3 percent increase, to 86,979 students, in spring 2018. History courses saw a 7.6 percent increase, to 10,936.
The biggest enrollment drops were seen in homeland security, law enforcement, firefighting and related protective services (a 7.2-percent drop), and public administration and social services professions (also a 7.2 percent drop). Transportation and material moving, and family and consumer sciences/human sciences both saw a 7.1 percent decrease.