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Fall enrollments dip again

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Overall fall 2016 postsecondary education enrollments fell by more than 270,000 students — a 1.4 percent dip — mainly among students over the age of 24, according to new estimates from the National Student Clearinghouse (NSC) Research Center.

Two-year public colleges enrolled about 153,000 fewer students (a 2.6 percent decrease) compared to fall 2015. Although enrollments in the sector continues to decrease, it’s doing so at a lower rate. The decrease rate in fall 2015 was 2.0 percent and 4.4 percent in fall 2014, according to the biannual enrollment report.

Enrollments at four-year for-profits dropped the most since last fall at 14.5 percent, while four-year public institutions continued to see an increase, though at a slower rate, at 0.2 percent. The increases were 0.8 percent in fall 2015 and 0.7 percent in fall 2014.

At public two-year colleges, enrollments among older students continued to decline at a faster pace (a 5.5 percent drop) than among students age 24 and younger, who saw a decrease of 1 percent from the previous fall. 

Enrollments drop, but at a lower rate“The trends of a declining adult student enrollment and the shrinking for-profit sector are now joined by stagnating numbers of new high school graduates. These forces show no sign of slowing and will continue to challenge institutions in their planning,” Doug Shapiro, executive research director of the NSC Research Center, said in a statement.

Even though overall enrollments declined in 39 states — mainly in the Northeast and Midwest — it increased in 12 states (centered in the West and South) and the District of Columbia. The report features nationwide enrollment figures and trends for each state.

Trends on field of study

For the first time, the NSC report includes enrollment totals by undergraduate field of study at four-year and two-year institutions.

The top five majors by enrollment at two-year institutions include:

  • Liberal arts and sciences, general studies and humanities (2,015,473)
  • Health professions and related programs (827,811)
  • Business, management, marketing and related support (608,435)
  • Homeland security, law enforcement, firefighting and related protective services (211,803)
  • Computer and information sciences and support services (208,500)

The top five majors based on percentage increase at two-year institutions are:

  • History (9.6 percent)
  • Architecture and related services (9.4 percent)
  • Mathematics and statistics (8.3 percent)
  • Psychology (8.2 percent)
  • Biological and biomedical sciences (8.0 percent)
The top five majors losing enrollment based on percentage at two-year institutions include:
  • Transportation and materials moving (-14.8 percent)
  • Legal professions and studies (-8.7 percent)
  • Homeland security, law enforcement, firefighting and related protective services (-7.6 percent)
  • Public administration and social service professions (-5.6 percent)
  • Engineering technologies and engineering-related fields (-5.3 percent)
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