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Enrollments dip, but degrees increase

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​Colleges and universities saw a drop in enrollment between 2011-12 and 2012-13, with public two-year colleges seeing the bulk of those decreases, according to analysis of new federal data. But there is some good news: two-year colleges are awarding more degrees. 

Both of these findings are not surprising, said Jolanta Juszkiewicz, director of policy analysis at the American Association of Community Colleges (AACC), which examined the data. Enrollment tends to be countercyclical to the state of the economy, so enrollment drops as the economy improves, especially among institutions with shorter-term programs, such as community colleges, she said. And the increase in the number of degrees can be explained by virtue of more students earning credentials as a result of the increased enrollment during the downturn of the economy. 

Every sector saw a drop in enrollment except for private, non-profit four-year institutions, which saw a 2 percent increase of 60,333. The percent decrease ranged from a low of less than 1 percent at public four-year institutions, to a high of 16 percent at private, non-profit two-year institutions. Two-year public institutions fell closer to the lower end with a 4 percent drop in their enrollment.

DataPoints: A mix of credentials

The 12-month enrollment for all U.S. undergraduates decreased by 680,762 between 2011-12 and 2012-13, representing a 2.7 percent dip, according to the AACC an analysis of data from the U.S. Department of Education. Public two-year colleges accounted for more than 60 percent (or 414,455) of the decrease.

The public two-year institutions’ share of 12-month undergraduate enrollment is the largest among all sectors at 42 percent, or more than 10 million students. Four-year institutions, public and private, enroll 53 percent (13 million) of undergraduates.

More students complete

There is a silver lining for community colleges in the new data: More students are earning associate degrees, according to the AACC analysis. The number of associate degrees earned at public two-year institutions increased by 15,449, representing a 2.5 percent jump. (Public two-years comprise nearly two-thirds of institutions awarding associate degrees over the year studied.) 

Costs up, too

The average cost of tuition and fees increased about 3 percent from the previous year among all public degree-granting institutions, with public two-year institutions slightly higher (4.1 percent, or $145, for in-state students) than the four-year institutions (3 percent, or $228, for in-state students), but not in the dollar amount. Actual average cost of tuition and fees remains the lowest among public two-years at $3,666. The average cost at public four-years is more than double at $7,754. 

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