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As economy improves, older students opt for jobs

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Commentary

Declines in college enrollments over the past two years seem to support the theory that when the economy improves, individuals tend to favor jobs over going to college, especially those who are 24 years and older.

The decline in enrollment of students over that age has been greater compared to younger students over the past three years, reaching 6 percent last fall, according to a review by the American Association of Community Colleges of recently released data. For students 24 and younger, enrollment has dipped about 1 percent. Among all students, it’s been about a 3 percent drop annually over the past two years.

“This could be a result of the slightly brightening economy allowing older students, many of whom were probably employed previously, to return to the workforce,” according to AACC, which reviewed two recently released reports, one from the U.S. Department of Education (ED) and the other from the National Student Clearinghouse (NSC).

Enrollment among part-time and full-time students also saw a decrease (3.3 percent and 2.9 percent, respectively), but the dip among full-time students has significantly slowed over the period studied, while the drop among part-time students represents a shift from a 1.2 percent increase in enrollment three years ago.

A clearer picture of completion

AACC also looked at NSC completion rates and ED graduation rates released in December 2013 reports. The association noted that NSC’s completion rate measure better reflects than the department’s graduation rate measure how well community college students are doing because it tracks students, including those earning associate degrees, over a longer period of time and across different institutions. NSC data — which follows all students over six years — show that 40 percent of community college students completed their program.

“The patterns revealed in this study reflect both the complexity of students’ postsecondary pathways and the distinctive enrollment behaviors among students following non-traditional pathways,” according to the NSC report.

The ED data — which include only full-time, first-time students followed over three years in the same institution — had a 21 percent graduation rate for community college students.

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