Today's biggest enrollment trends, in 3 charts

In fall 2017, university enrollment declined by 1% compared to the previous fall, according to the Current Term Enrollment Estimate report by the National Student Clearinghouse (NSC).

This year's dip in enrollment marks the sixth straight year of declining higher ed enrollment, Jon Marcus writes for the Hechinger Report.

We identified three trends that may be driving the overall decline in postsecondary enrollment.

Trend 1: For-profits driving most of the decline, but nonprofits not immune

Enrollment trends by institution

For-profit universities have experienced the largest decline in enrollment. Although for-profit institutions saw the most dramatic decline, nonprofit institutions are not immune to declining enrollment. Public and private non-profit institutions' enrollment also fell, but at a slower pace than last year.

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Trend 2: Adult students see big declines

Enrollment trends by age group

For both two- and four-year institutions, adult student enrollment decreased while the number of enrollees between the ages of 18-24 increased this fall compared to last fall. Four-year institutions, especially private schools, saw bigger declines than last year. But two-year institutions rebounded slightly—the pace of decline was slower than it has been for the past two years.

In reality, adult student enrollment has been declining since the height of the Great Recession, according to research from EAB's Community College Executive Forum. This trend is partly cyclical—during every economic recovery, adult learners leave college to return to the workforce. And as the 18-24 year-old demographic continues to decline, institutions face increased competition to win over adult learners.

Learn 75+ strategies for marketing and recruiting across the adult student lifecycle

Trend 3: Students in non-degree programs also declining

Enrollment Chart by degree

All three types of institutions saw the number of students enrolled in a certificate or non-credential program drop this fall compared to last fall. The declines were particularly dramatic at private institutions and community colleges.

However, community colleges bucked the overall enrollment trend: they actually saw an increase in the number of students enrolled in associate degree programs (National Student Clearinghouse report, accessed 12/21; Marcus, Hechinger Report, 12/21).

8 strategies to increase enrollment in community colleges


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