College enrollment has dropped in the United States ever since its peak in 2010, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. The decrease of enrollment has been greatest among low-income students at community college and for-profit universities.
At the University of Nebraska at Omaha, however, enrollment has actually increased its numbers from 14,665 in 2010 to 15,526 in 2015, which is a nearly 6 percent increase. The combined University of Nebraska universities have seen an overall increase 13.5 percent increase in college enrollment since 2010.
On a national level, the types of colleges seeing a decline in enrollment are community colleges and for-profit universities. Community college enrollment has dropped by 820,000 students since 2010 (CNN). Some say this is because a middle class value of getting a university experience requires leaving your hometown.
However, the decline in for-profit university enrollment cannot be explained by that value. For-profit colleges have seen a decline of 466,520 fewer students since 2010. “Community colleges are often lifelines for poor families. They are close to home, they don’t require SAT scores, and they have cheap price tags,” says Heather Long writing for CNN.
Ted Mitchell, U.S. Under Secretary of Education, does not see the overall decrease in college enrollment as a problem, saying “historically, as the economy improves and Americans get back to work, college enrollment declines.”
The American Council for Higher Education (ACE) examined these numbers and concluded that there has been a dramatic decrease in college enrollment, despite a massive increase in grant financial aid. These grants do not have to be repaid to the U.S. government as a loan would, so it is odd that increased monies for financial aid would occur at the same time as lower-income students who are largely selected for these grants would lower.
Aid increased by around 50 percent between the 2008-09 academic year to the 2013-14 academic year. Even stranger, high school graduation rates have risen from 75 percent to 81 percent in the same academic years we have seen college enrollment drop compared to higher aid allotments.
Mitchell also says that now a college education matters more in the outcome of a U.S. citizens’ experience more than ever. For the low income families trying to afford college tuition, especially out of state tuition, cost is a concern.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau data, low-income students are not enrolling to higher education as much as they used to be. The amount of low-income students enrolling to college has increased only 3 percent in the past 20 years.
The Pew Research Center focused on this point, saying “On virtually every measure of economic well-being and career attainment—from personal earnings to job satisfaction to the share employed full time—young college graduates are outperforming their peers with less education.” Income disparity among those college educated and not college educated is greater now than for previous generations.
ACE suggests that a possible reason for this is because of sharp price increases for tuition, especially in the public college sector, to discourage low-income students from applying. Other possibilities could be related to the increased focus on working after the economic recovery from the 2008 recession.