Great News: College Enrollment Is Down

It’s true:

New Census Bureau estimates published Tuesday point to a record drop in college enrollment after years of steady growth. Total enrollment dipped 467,000 last year, about a 2.3 percent decline from 2011. While it might not seem high, the number represents a significant reversal: It’s the largest year-over-year decline since the Census Bureau began estimating enrollment in 1955.

Nick Anderson celebrates:

Dig into the data, and you’ll find that number of undergraduates 24 or younger shrank by about 122,000 students from 2011 to 2012. The 25-and-older cohort shrank by about 332,000. Older students accounted for nearly three-fourths of the shrinkage — even though older students only make up about a quarter of the undergraduate population. Why is this important? Because older students are plugged into the workforce much more than younger students. So, if the economy is stabilizing after the 2008 financial crisis, making the job market more attractive than it was a few years ago, then our inference is that there will be a significant effect on the college-going decisions of the 25-and-older crowd.

Terry Hartle of the American Council on Education is also heartened by the news:

Higher education enrollment has risen over the last 20 years, Hartle says, but the trend is counter-cyclical. During bad economies, people rush to finish a degree or pick up new skills. That’s why 2007 and 2008 saw a 13 percent increase in enrollment, the biggest jump in 25 years. The half-a-million person drop sounds big, he says, but it’s really just a return to normalcy. “Enrollment tends to level off or fall when the economy is improving,” he says. “Given how much enrollment surged during the economic downturn, a reduction was inevitable.”

What’s more, enrollment by Hispanics jumped by nearly 450,000, reaching an all-time high:

For the first time, a greater share of Hispanic recent high school graduates are enrolled in college than whites. According to the Census Bureau, 49 percent of young Hispanic high school graduates were enrolled in college. By comparison, 47 percent of white non-Hispanic high school graduates were enrolled in college. These findings reflect those of a May Pew Research Center report that showed the share of Hispanic high school graduates enrolled in college immediately after high school surpassed whites in 2012.